United welcomed visitors Schalke for the return of the champions league semi final, and for the right to play Barcelona in the final at Wembley. Having easily dispatched the German side 2-0 in the first leg, only a defeat by 2 or more goals would see the reds eliminated from the competition, an unlikely feat considering United had only conceded 3 goals in the entire competition to this point. However, with a league decider against Chelsea at the weekend, Fergie fielded what appeared a relatively weak side, with 9 changes from the side who succumbed to defeat at the Emirates on the weekend, giving Schalke added incentive to spring what would be the shock of the tournament.
With United holding a commanding lead, the impetus was on the German visitors to bring the game to the reds and find their way back into the tie. However, it was United who looked the most threatening in the early exchanges, with many of the fringe players looking to stake their claim for a place in the squad for the final. On 25 minutes, United took a deserved lead in what turned out to be a pulsating 10 minutes, as Darron Gibson collected a stray pass before playing Antonio Valencia in with a superbly timed through ball, leaving the Ecuadorian winger the relatively simple task of sliding past Neuer. The reds doubled their lead 5 minutes later as the impressive Gibson fired in a powerful shot which proved too hot for Neuer, who could only palm it into the corner of the net.
4-0 up on aggregate United had one foot firmly into the final, yet Schalke were determined not to meekly roll over, and responded well from going two behind by giving themselves a glimmer of hope courtesy of Mexican midfielder Juarado, who volleyed home after some shambolic United defending. Although the German side still remained 3 goals adrift in the tie, they would have gone into the dressing room with a glimour of hope that they could perhaps salvage a miracle, especially with players with the quality of Raul in their side. Schalke came out in the second half looking sharp, maintaining the ball very well although without really threatening the United goal. Again, it was the reds who were the more incisive, and the tie was wrapped up on 72 minutes after Anderson’s persistence paid off as he hooked a left footed shot under Neuer in what was only the Brazilians 3rd goal for the club. Anderson’s superb performance was capped just 4 minutes later, as he doubled his tally with a simple tap in at the back post, after some superb build up play from Nani and then Dimitar Berbatov, who provided an unmissable assist.
The onlooking Barcelona Pep Guardiola will have been impressed by what was a comfortable United victory in what should have been very testing circumstances, yet the likelihood is that his side will be facing a much changed United line up on the 28th of May. Therein perhaps lies the greatest advantage United have over the Catalan club, in that United are able to field 2/3 XI’s capable of beating Europe’s best when it comes down to the crunch, with Fergie possessing plenty of weapons on his bench if needed. United will need to be at their very best to win a 4th champions league crown, but with the scars of 2009 still fresh, one thing is for sure is that the reds will be chomping at the bit to exact revenge, and write themselves into United history.
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