It was just over a week ago when United triumphed convincingly in the first leg of the Champions League semi final against Schalke, and if United can put defeat to Arsenal out of their minds, confidence will be sky high in the return tie on Wednesday.
Away from home, United soldiered thorough to a 2-0 win, although were disappointed not to come away with more. Had it not been for the heroics and wonder-stops of Manuel Neuer in the Schalke goal, the tie could almost have been settled already.
Of course, we’re only halfway through the round and despite needing to make sure we sail through, it’s important to take in to account the other important games we’ve got in the championship run in.
Sir Alex has already mentioned names like Owen, Scholes and other non-regulars in a hint that it could be the right time to give some players a rest ahead of the ‘title-deciding’ game against Chelsea on Sunday.
Jason Burt of the Telegraph looks back on last season, and the risks that Sir Alex took in playing Wayne Rooney to try and guarantee qualification against another German side, when United were also in an important run in for the championship: “Last season United faced Bayern Munich, 2-1 down from the first leg, and wrongly risked Wayne Rooney to try to salvage the tie even though he was suffering from an ankle problem that would pursue him for months. They went out on the away goals rule, after winning 3-2, then drew away to Blackburn Rovers, having already lost to Chelsea, which meant the Premier League title was eventually lost by a single point.”
Burt adds: “Rooney is desperately required on Sunday. Indeed his absence against Chelsea last season seemed to drain United of belief while Ferguson described the striker’s recent form as “fantastic again”.
Daniel Taylor of The Guardian tells of an interesting omen on the eve of the tie, but quotes Sir Alex Ferguson who insists that there is no room for complacency: “United have never lost a Champions League match at home by more than one goal, but Ferguson flinched when it was put to him that the club’s supporters now considered their passage to the final to be a formality.
“That’s the over-optimism supporters have got. We don’t share that because we feel there’s still a lot to do. It’s easy to get complacent in modern life – there are many examples of it – but I know Manchester United don’t regard it as a formality.”
Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, told UEFA.com that he hopes for an upset at Old Trafford, indicating that they are coming to England with the belief that the tie is far from over: “United have players you often see on television, and the pitch and the stadium are also wonderful. They’re a great team, and they have a great coach…..but Schalke also have great fans, a great coach and great players, so we’re going to give it our all. If we win we’ll be in the Champions League final.”
ESPN see the Rio v Raul battle as a major focus for Wednesday’s game: “Ferguson’s plan to rest a number of players does not extend to his defence, which is itself a recognition of the respect he has for a player he considered signing following his release by Real Madrid last summer. Raul has scored 71 goals in European competition and, though he does like to drop deep, when approaching the box he will always pose a threat to the United defence.
“Ferdinand may be the superior physical specimen, particularly with Raul now the wrong side of 33, but few forwards are as clever as the Spaniard and if he is at his elusive best then the United defender may have a tricky night in front of him.”
We’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wembley…
We’re 90 minutes away from our third Champions League final in four years, and we’re firmly in the driving seat to get there. No side has ever come back from a two goal home deficit in a two legged Champions League match to proceed to the next round, so the uphill struggle FC Schalke face is monumental.
Ferguson, as stated above, will utilise his squad but he’ll make sure a strong, capable and efficient side will take to the field. Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, Darron Gibson, Tomasz Kuszczack, John O’Shea and Chris Smalling could all play a part – and in doing so would be doing their bit for our game on Sunday. Out of those, I believe Kuszczack will definitely play, given that Edwin Van Der Sar is on a yellow card, and would miss the final if he picks up another.
But by beating Schalke on Wednesday, we go back to Wembley. The venue of our first ever European Cup win under Matt Busby 43 years ago. To play against the famous team of the Nou Camp Stadium – where we won our second Champions League trophy. To play against the feared Barcelona who we knocked out on the road to our third Champions League victory in 2008, and beat in our only other victorious European trophy final in 1991.
Belief is sky high, and so it should be. Even if Fergie has warned us about getting over excited. I think we’ve done the hard bit, and lets hope that at 9.30pm on Wednesday night we’re heading back down the gangways with beaming smiles and voices that are lost until the weekend.
Wherever you’re watching the game, enjoy it as England’s finest advert in European football in recent times head towards the final again.
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