Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Uefa Champions League - Schalke versus Manchester United

Uefa Champions League, semi-final first leg
Schalke versus Manchester United
Tuesday, 26 April
(Second leg - Wednesday 4 May, Old Trafford)

Manchester United are in Germany this evening for the first episode of their mission to secure a return to Wembley, the scene of their maiden European Cup/Champions League triumph way back in 1968 when they overcame Benfica 4-1.

43 years on, Sir Alex Ferguson is seeking to define another era for Man United with a fourth Champions League crown for the club. But United have a tricky obstacle in their way facing a Schalke side full of confidence after their stunning 7-3 disposal of defending champions Inter Milan in the quarterfinals.

Match factors
Schalke’s home record
Schalke lost their sixth Bundesliga home match this season at the weekend with a defeat to Kaiserslautern and they lie an unimpressive tenth in the German league. But in Europe their record is a different story having won all five of their games in Gelsenkirchen, scoring 13 goals in the process, conceding just three. United nevertheless have a stunning away record with 10 wins in their last 12 away trips in Europe. United have lost only one of their last 22 away games in the Champions League and have yet to concede on their travels this season. Ferguson’s side also head to Germany unbeaten in 11 European matches but their last defeat did come against another German side, Bayern Munich, at around this time last year.

United’s problems against German sides and their tough schedule
Man United have never beaten a German side in a two-legged Champions League tie losing at this stage to Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 as well as two loses to Bayern Munich, including that quarterfinal defeat last season. Ferguson’s men however have a fifth European Cup/Champions League final in their sights as they enter the business end of the season. United are also gunning for a record 19th English Premier League title and face crucial meetings with rivals Arsenal and Chelsea over the next couple of weeks. Their more demanding workload could be a factor against Schalke, at least over two legs.

Berbatov’s absence
The absence of Dimitar Berbatov means Javier Hernandez starts tonight’s game without contention. It means United will have an explosive option upfront through the middle – perfect for the counterattack. It also means Wayne Rooney will continue to have licence to roam and influence the game, both offensively and defensively, helping out what is a less robust midfield of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs. And Hernandez is always hungry for goals, much like Filippo Inzaghi, something United sometimes miss with Berbatov.

Raul could be the key for Schalke. His ability to find space and score goals is second to none. The Spain striker is hoping to reach yet another Champions League final by disposing of a familiar foe. Raul has scored four times in two ties against United and is the leading marksman in Champions League history with 71 goals. Raul has already scored 17 goals in all competitions this season and his experience, cunning, work-rate and deadly finishing could go some way to setting up a dream final for him against his former side Real Madrid.

Schalke attack and United’s defence
Schalke have been a revelation in the latter rounds with their attacking play. They have exciting weapons such as Jefferson Farfan, Jurado and Edu. But United have the tightest defence of the four teams left in the competition and, as stated, haven’t conceded away from home. Sometimes in European ties it is the away team that dictates the pattern of the game – whether it is defensive or otherwise. United have shown a willingness in recent seasons to sit back and take the game back to Old Trafford. But Ferguson’s side also have attacking talent of their own.

Schalke (4-4-2): Neuer © – Uchida, Matip, Metzelder, Sarpei – Farfan, Papadopoulous*, Jurado*, Baumjohann – Raul*, Edu
Subs: Schober, Escudero, Plestan, Kluge, Charisteas, Karimi, Draxler
United (4-4-2): Van der Sar – Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic ©, Evra – Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park – Rooney, Hernandez
Subs: Kuszczak, Anderson, Smalling, Nani, Scholes, Rafael, Evans
*on a booking

Schalke 1, Man United 2

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