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Jan, 20, 2003

Faltering Marseille face Auxerre test

MARSEILLE, France, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Depleted Olympique Marseille are facing a strong challenge at in-form AJ Auxerre in a French top-of-the-table match in Burgundy on Tuesday.

Since the season resumed after the winter break, Marseille have played two matches every week and this pace has proved too hectic for the club who have been hit by injuries to several key players.

Influential captain Frank Leboeuf is doubtful with a painful knee while sweeper Abdoulaye Meite is out after he strained a thigh muscle.

Coach Alain Perrin may also have to spare defender Sebastien Perez who broke his nose during the 4-0 thrashing of second division Creteil in their League Cup second round match on Saturday.

Swiss international playmaker Fabio Celestini is suspended and striker Lamine Sakho is out with an ankle injury.

Goalscorers Ibrahima Bakayoko and Brazilian Fernandao are doubtful, too.

'We are taking one match at a time with the same will to do well. Playing every three days is not that bad after all. It helps us not to think too much about what we are doing,' said defender Manuel Dos Santos.

'We have the opportunity to achieve something this season but we must believe in ourselves,' said striker Cyril Chapuis.

'We fear no one, not even Auxerre who are chasing the title too. So we will have to prove what we are worth to do something great in Burgundy.'

Dos Santos added: 'Everything is possible in soccer. Taking points at Auxerre would be great. It's up to us to find the right balance between defence and attack.

'But we must avoid the little mistakes we paid dearly for at Lyon.'

Marseille lost 1-0 away to the reigning champions last week.

They are second in the standings level with leaders Nice on 38 points, two ahead of Lyon and Auxerre - but the Burgundy side have a match in hand.

The players of charismatic coach Guy Roux have lost just one game at home this season whereas Marseille have gone down five times in their last ten away outings.

With all their players fit, Auxerre will represent a strong challenge for the Marseille defence which has been the key to their good performances.

Even if he still refuses to talk about the league title, Roux is aiming for Auxerre's second after steering his small, provincial club to their first in 1996.

A win or a draw will send Marseille back to the top, at least for 24 hours, while Auxerre need a victory to leap into the leading place for the first time since the season started.

Nice are at home to Paris St Germain in one of nine matches on Wednesday.

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