It barely seems two minutes since the Old Trafford crowd erupted as Ji Sung Park smashed in United’s second against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final…and already the Semi’s are upon us.
Opponents FC Schalke 04 turned a few heads in the quarters by seeing off Inter Milan 5-2 in the first leg at the San Siro. An achievement in itself at this stage of the competition, but even more so given how unfashionable and unfancied Schalke are, and that Inter are the reigning European champions.
However since that game, things haven’t gone too swimmingly at the VELTINS Arena.
Languishing in 10th spot, manager Felix Magathe was sacked by the club after the 5-2 game, and replaced with Ralf Rangnick. He took charge for the victory in the 2nd leg over Inter, and also saw a slight upturn in fortunes in the league. But defeat at the weekend coincided with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer confirming that he will not sign a new contract and stay at the club beyond summer 2012.
Neuer, a long mooted target for Sir Alex in his quest to replace Edwin van der Sar in the summer, came clean about his decision in agreement with the club at a crucial time. A very badly timed move in my eyes – and the supporters may be on his back on Tuesday night which can only be good for United’s cause.
United will be without the injured Dimitar Berbatov, as he stays at home with a hamstring injury. So Rooney will start up top, with Chicharito his partner if Fergie decides to play 4-4-2.
Darren Fletcher is still not match fit, so Michael Carrick and Anderson could partner each other in the centre of midfield, and Ji Sung Park and Nani could fill the other two spots, although the effect of Ryan Giggs when he came on against the Toffees on Saturday will nudge him in to contention. Park, rested for Saturday’s victory against Everton, is quite a fixture in the European games and was a valuable member of the team who knocked Chelsea out over the two legs.
Captain Nemanja Vidic should return to partner Rio Ferdinand in defence, with Patrice Evra and John O’Shea taking up the full back slots.
If Edwin Van Der Sar faces Schalke, he will equal the record set by Claude Makelele of appearing in the highest number of Champions League semi finals, with 13 under his belt.
Gelsenkirchen is the home of FC Schalke’s VELTINS arena – the last time Wayne Rooney played here, he was sent off for England in the World Cup of 2006 for stamping on Ricardo Carvalliho’s meat and two veg.
FC Schalke have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League/European Cup twice – once in 1958-59, and in 2007-2008. This is the first time they’ve got to the semi finals.
It’s United’s 12 Champions League/European Cup semi final – and the fourth appearance at this stage in the last five seasons.
Men to watch:
Manuel Neuer: The German ‘keeper will be the focus of attention for many reds who see him to be the ideal guy to replace Edwin Van Der Sar. Standing at over 6ft 3ins, the international stopper has piled pressure on to himself with his announcement that he wants to leave the club, but if he wants’ to move to Old Trafford he’ll need to make a good audition in this one…not something we’re hoping for!
Raul: The former Real Madrid striker, who’s scored 70 goals in European competition, is in his first season with Schalke. A legend in his own right, he’s scored seven league goals and two in the Champions League this season. A class player who may be 33 years old, but with his experience at this level there’s no way we can take his contribution lightly.
Christoph Metzelder: The 30 year old centre back will be the man in the mask on Tuesday night, as he plays despite a broken nose – the 4th time he’s done it. Metzelder stands at 6ft 4ins, and is another former Real Madrid player. Tough and rugged style, he’ll be up for the battle against Wayne Rooney – although he can be inconsistent. Positional sense is questionable.
Not one to tempt fate, and very aware of United’s record against German opposition in the semi finals of the competition, this is the ‘draw’ we wanted. We go to Gelsenkirchen as overwhelming favourites to head to the final, although we’ll have to match the efficiencies of the German side to come away with a positive result for the home leg the following week.
The drubbing of Inter Milan is no mean feat, so Schalke shouldn’t be under-estimated, although the supporters may make life uncomfortable for their own side if they haven’t taken too kindly to Manuel Neuer’s statement of intent to leave. On the back of a defeat against Kaiserslauten, it’s set up nicely for the reds, who I believe will come home with an advantage of some sort.
Wherever you’re watching the game, enjoy it. And as they say in Germany…. #GLAUBEN!
Article courtesy of Steve Crabtree at the excellent Red Flag Flying High
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