Odds stacked against Marseille for Bayern match

JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer Published:

MARSEILLE, France (AP) -- Out of form and missing key players, Marseille is in the worst possible shape for the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

Marseille recently set a dismal club record with seven straight defeats and has scored a meager five goals in eight games. It faces Bayern without its best goalkeeper and first-choice center half, and desperately needs topscorer Loic Remy to shake off a thigh injury.

In sharp contrast to Marseille's slump, Bayern has been tearing opponents apart lately, scoring 22 goals in five games thanks to its mesmerizing three-pronged attack of Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez and Franck Ribery.

"Aside from Real Madrid and Barcelona, they're the team that really stands out. We're facing a heavyweight," Marseille midfielder Alou Diarra said. "They are the favorites, but we'll give it everything."

Marseille ended its losing streak with a 1-1 draw away to Nice on Saturday, but lost defender Souleymane Diawara for the rest of the season to a knee injury. Although Diawara was suspended for Wednesday, his absence will also be a blow for the return leg in Munich.

Coach Didier Deschamps must also cope without suspended goalie Steve Mandanda.

His absence couldn't come at a worse time, given Marseille's situation and Mandanda's outstanding form.

In the previous round, the France No. 2's inspirational shot-stopping against Inter Milan at San Siro kept Marseille in the competition. But with quarterfinal qualification assured, he gave away a penalty in the dying seconds and got sent off.

Deschamps has to choose between Gennaro Bracigliano, who spilled an easy cross in last week's French Cup quarterfinal defeat to semiprofessional Quevilly, and Elinton Andrade, who hasn't played since January 2011 and totals just eight games in three years.

Whoever starts may have nightmares about Robben, Gomez and Ribery. With the kind of service Gomez has been getting from each flank, it is little wonder he's scored 10 goals in the competition -- two behind Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Gomez scored four when Bayern destroyed FC Basel 7-0 in the previous round to record the biggest winning margin in the knockout rounds.

Keeping Robben and Ribery quiet stems the supply line to Gomez, but is easier said than done.

"We'll be keeping an eye on Ribery," Diarra said.

Ribery enjoyed two excellent seasons with Marseille before joining Bayern in 2007. Despite being hugely popular with Marseille fans back then, he does not expect a warm welcome.

"(I'm expecting) some jeers, which is normal. That's football," Ribery told sports daily L'Equipe on Tuesday. "The fans liked me and appreciated the contact I had with them. But they're not going to applaud me, either. I play for Bayern now."

The volatile Stade Velodrome crowd has been getting on the players' backs recently, but Ribery knows that can change as quickly as the Mistral wind that blows through Marseille's port, and that they can be a potent force when backing their team.

"The people live football and 60,000 fans will be against us," he said.

Defender Daniel Van Buyten, who played for Marseille from 2001-04, doesn't think Marseille's lean spell is an indication of a comfortable game for Bayern.

"They're hard to handle at home," Van Buyten said. "Even if they've had a few problems recently, we won't underestimate them."

Marseille is down in ninth place in the French league, meaning it will most likely need to win the Champions League to play in it next season. Still, Deschamps was mightily relieved to even draw last weekend.

"This helps us stem the hemorrhage a bit," he said. "Even if we haven't stopped it completely, at least we've stuck a bandage on it."

His relief mirrors the players' lack of confidence.

Bayern's confidence, however, is soaring, as it dreams of a treble and playing the Champions League final in its stadium on May 19.

Bayern reached the German Cup final by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach on penalties then maintained the pressure on Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 win over Hannover at the weekend.

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes started with Gomez on the bench against Hannover because of a minor hip injury, but he scored his league-leading 23rd goal of the season after going on as a substitute.

Doubts remain over midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's troublesome right ankle.