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English Premiership

Ailing Bayern braced for United

MUNICH, March 29 – Manchester United travel to Bayern Munich for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg in buoyant mood after six straight wins, with the Germans smarting after back-to-back losses.Bayern coach Louis van Gaal admitted Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat by Stuttgart had hurt his side, who lost their place at the top of the Bundesliga to Schalke, having also lost 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt the week before.

While Bayern needed an away goal, and a good dose of luck, to squeeze past Fiorentina in the last 16, United had no such problems as they thumped AC Milan 7-2 on aggregate.

To make matters worse, Munich are waiting on the fitness of influential winger Arjen Robben after the Dutchman, who has scored 14 goals this season, strained a calf muscle on Saturday.

"It might not be too bad, but it’ll be difficult for him to be fit in time for the Manchester United game," said van Gaal after the Stuttgart game.

"We’re hoping he makes it."

Robben came on for the second half, but finished the game limping heavily.

"Losing him for such an important game would be a bitter blow," admitted Bayern’s Germany defender Philipp Lahm.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson identified Arjen Robben and French winger Franck Ribery as the Bavarian side’s key dangermen.

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"Robben and Ribery are the ones who have been carrying the banner for Bayern," Ferguson told British newspaper The People.

"They have been behind in games so many times and one of those two has always rescued them, so they are obviously the players to watch.

"Ribery is a fine player and I like him a lot. I’m not sure he’s up with Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, but he’s a good player. As for Robben, he’s one that got away.

"We were close to signing him when he was at PSV Eindhoven, but Chelsea had that arrangement and some sort of operation with PSV because they put Alex there for a couple of years."

United have no such injury worries, having rested striker Wayne Rooney and centre-back Rio Ferdinand for the 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday that put the three-time European champions back on top of the Premier League.

Rivals Chelsea had taken over top spot with a 7-1 thrashing of Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge and the west London outfit travel to Old Trafford next week for what is being billed as a title decider.

While United face a tough run, they are riding a wave of confidence with six wins from their last six games.

"It was an emphatic win in the circumstances, with Chelsea winning earlier in the day," Ferguson said after seeing striker Dimitar Berbatov score twice.

The Bulgaria international was standing in for Rooney, but both the former Everton man and his England colleague Ferdinand will feature in Munich.

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The English champions will be at full strength as Ryan Giggs has made a successful comeback from a month-long lay-off, playing a part in two of United’s goals at Bolton.

"Ryan has so much experience of these types of situations. It’s great to have him back," said midfielder Darren Fletcher.

Meanwhile, Bayern look set to welcome back Germany international Mario Gomez after he returned from three weeks out with a ruptured calf muscle in training on Sunday.

He is likely to begin on the bench against United, but may be an option for the starting eleven.

"I’m ready," said Gomez, after staying out for extra shooting practice.

The 24-year-old last played for Bayern in the Champions League fixture away to Fiorentina on March 9.

Tuesday’s match re-unites the teams that contested the 1999 Champions League final, in which United prevailed 2-1 thanks to two injury-time goals to record their only win over Bayern in Europe’s premier club competition.

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