For the 4th time in 5 years, United embarked on the first leg of a champions league semi final with a trip to German side Schalke 04, with the prize of a Wembley final awaiting the victors. Having seen off Chelsea in the previous round, United would have been quietly confident of dispatching a Schalke side who are languishing in 10th place in the Bundesliga and having little prior experience of European football of this caliber. However, Schalke have been the surprise package of this seasons competition, having emphatically eliminated reigning champions Inter Milan in the previous round, and with legendary striker Raul firing on all cylinders this was unlikely to be a formality for the reds. United turned to their newly found winning formula, with Javier Hernandez leading the line and Wayne Rooney sitting behind him as Micheal Carrick and Ryan Giggs provided the ammunition from midfield in what was likely to be a very open match given both sides attacking styles.
With a roaring crowd behind them for perhaps the biggest game in their history, United braced themselves for an early Schalke onslaught with home advantage in their favour. However, it was United who started the brightest, with Rooney bringing the best out of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer within the first 3 minutes, as his curling shot was tipped over by the German international. The momentum was clearly with United, as Carrick and Giggs were given time and space to dictate the game from the middle of the park, with very little resistance from a nervous looking Schalke side. Neuer again came to their rescue as Ji Sung Park’s effort was clawed away by the German, and again from a Ryan Giggs header as the Schalke stopper appeared to be putting in a match saving performance, much to the frustration of United. In a half dominated by United, it was somewhat baffling that the score remained 0-0 at the interval, made even more frustrating after Ryan Giggs was again thwarted by an inspired Neuer on the brink of half time, as the Welshman found himself one on one with the goal at his mercy.
Having dominated the first half so emphatically, the fear that United would run out of belief in the second half as many sides do must have been creeping into the minds of many of the watching reds. However, one thing this team does possess is an unrivaled winning mentality, and they quickly regained the tempo with which they ended the first half. Giggs again was guilty of wasting a golden opportunity, having superbly fashioned a clear opening, he skewed his right footed shoot horribly wide with only Neuer to beat. However, Schalke failed to learn their lesson, and eventually United’s pressure told on 67 minutes, as a delightful reverse pass from the once again superb Rooney found Giggs in space in the area, who made no mistake in slotting the ball between the seemingly impenetrable Neuer’s legs. With the deadlock finally broken, United smelt blood, and immediately doubled their lead as Hernandez forced an error from the extremely poor Metzelder, before playing in Rooney who made no mistake in slotting past Neuer sending the travelling United support into raptures.
With the match seemingly tied up, with one eye on Sunday Ferguson withdrew Rooney, Hernandez and Park for the last 20 minutes, as the reds cantered their way to victory in style. In truth, 2-0 was a disappointing scoreline for United, having dominated possession and creating plenty of golden goalscoring opportunities. Nevertheless, having only conceded 3 goals in the entire competition, only 3 Schalke goals will now knock the reds out of the competition, a massively improbable feat and one that United will be determined to prevent from happening. United now turn their attention to the massive premier league game away to Arsenal on sunday, with victory there taking us a step closer to league title number 19.