Club Focus – Manchester United – Red Devils have learned how to play in Europe

Remember when Wayne Rooney wanted that transfer away from Manchester United? How he claimed that there was not enough quality in the squad? Well last night’s display against Chelsea was the final nail in the argument that this season will see a poor champion, should United go on to victory. The league leaders were assured and confident in securing progression to the semi-finals.

For years there has been a tendency to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson for not translating his domestic dominance into greater European glory. However his recent record is very impressive. United’s tie against either Inter Milan or Schalke will be their fourth semi-final in five years. Beating either side would take Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to their third final in four years. All in all, it suggests that after years of problems against Europe’s lesser luminaries such as Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and Porto, Ferguson and his side have finally learned how to play in European competitions.

The game against Chelsea was a perfect example of how Ferguson sets out his sides these days. The goal from the previous leg was an obvious factor as United didn’t need to go chasing the game but the primary focus was always on defensive stability and then secondarily to go for a goal to kill off the tie. Javier Hernandez already had one goal disallowed because of a dubious offside decision before Ryan Giggs’ cross allowed him to stab home his 18th goal of the season but even without the intervention of the Little Pea, United were comfortable for the majority of the game.

An early Frank Lampard effort aside the first half was relatively easy-going for the three times European Champions. Rio Ferdinand continues to struggle with injuries and has only managed to take part in 29 of the last 79 league games for Manchester United but nevertheless his partnership with Nemanja Vidic held firm against the challenge of Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka. In the second half Didier Drogba was a much more lively presence and his goal was deserved on the basis of his overall play, but once again Giggs was involved to restore United’s lead, setting up Ji-Sung Park for the second.

Inter Milan are, on paper, a much better side than Schalke but their defence has been shoddy all season and particularly since Leonardo took over as manager – this season in the Champions League Inter have conceded 17 goals. Manchester United have conceded three. There is always the chance that Schalke will knock Manchester United out of the competition but the English team is far better at defending than the current European champions. Given the defensive frailties of Schalke and the excellent connection that is developing between Wayne Rooney and Hernandez, fans will feel more than confident of grabbing a goal or two against the German side should they knock Inter out.

Even if the Italians manage a dramatic come-back the equation stays the same. United have more defensive solidarity than either side and will rely on that to see them through to the final.

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