Manchester United took one big step towards Wembley and the Champions League final with a resounding 2-0 victory over Schalke in Germany. The Premier League leaders were dominant for the entirety of the first leg and were it not for Manuel Neuer, the visitors could have racked up an historic score. Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney scored the goals in quick succession for United once they had managed to find a way past the big German number one.
Both sides employed matching systems from kick-off with Raul and Wayne Rooney slotted in to bolster their midfields when not in possession and doing their utmost to support Edu and Javier Hernandez respectively when given the chance. The little Mexican was the more effective frontman and with the Schalke defence seemingly fearful of his blistering pace, they retreated backwards and attempted to check his many runs. The German midfield followed and opened up space for Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs to dictate the game.
Neither player was harassed or choked for time on the ball and with a choice of willing runners to pick out, United started to threaten. Gaping holes in the Schalke defence were exploited time and time again with only the brilliance of Neuer denying the English side their opening goal. The German number one, who is constantly touted as the best stopper in the world, was more than a match for the United frontline and he blocked efforts from Giggs, Hernandez, Rooney and Park Ji-Sung to send the sides in level at half time. The longer United went without making their dominance count, the more it appeared as though Schalke may sneak a result to take back to Old Trafford.
After the break, the hosts didn’t change their mentality and allowed the United midfield even more time and space on the ball. Their ploy of dropping deep seemed expectant of United quickening the pace and therefore allowing the Germans to catch them on the break. However, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men refused to panic in the face of their misfiring and eventually got their breakthrough. Wayne Rooney fashioned for a shot and then played a sublime reverse pass into the path of Giggs. The Welshman took time to notice the onrushing Neuer and smartly slide the ball between his legs.
The opener was a weight lifted off the visitor’s shoulders and minutes later, Hernandez flicked his strike partner in for the second goal. Rooney dispelled the ghosts of the 2006 World Cup that had ended with him being sent off in the same stadium with a powerful finish into the corner.
Schalke rarely offered anything going forward and Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Edwin van der Sar are unlikely to enjoy a more comfortable semi-final match. Dutch veteran goalkeeper Van der Sar, who kept his 50th European clean sheet, was only called into action with the game won and he saved well.
It would be unfair to state United can already look ahead to the Champions League final but with Schalke trailing by two away goals, they will need vast improvements in every area if they are to turn around the tie in a week’s time.