Ferguson's side were frustrated for much of the evening as Schalke showed little threat to United but two second half goals looks to have already sent the Red Devils to the final.Manchester United are taking a two goal cushion back to Old Trafford as they defeated a stubborn and spirited FC Schalke side at the Veltins-Arena in their Champions League semi-final. Goals from Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney were the fruits of hard labour in Gelsenkirchen after Manuel Neuer proved that the interest shown in him in recent months is not unfounded.
The German keeper was a huge thorn in the side of United and time and time again he was keeping United scoreless in a game that was one-sided in the English sides favour.
Schalke, who beat Inter in the previous round showed little of the attacking flair and seemed content to hold United for as long as they could. They managed this until the final third of the game but United's superiority shone through eventually.
Before the game Manchester United would have taken a draw of any kind. Sir Alex Ferguson would have been confident that once the action returned to Old Trafford his side could score as many goals as would be needed and this predicated his team selection. Out went Nani and Anderson and in came the likes of Ji-Sung Park who would stiffen the midfield and help keep the German side at bay. This negating attitude from United meant that Schalke’s most deadly threat, Raul, would have to toil for any chance to demonstrate his pedigree.
Schalke too were aware of the need for suffocating the attacking flair of their opponents. Ralf Rangnick showed the importance of shackling Wayne Rooney by assigning Christoph Metzelder to watch the striker hawk-like and with every opportunity that presented itself, the German gave Rooney the physical treatment. A number of times in the first half saw Rooney felled and clutching various body parts as the aggressive defender made himself known.
Rooney holds bad memories of the Veltins-Arena. It was this venue where he was red-carded for England in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal and the scene of the infamous Cristiano Ronaldo wink. And he will hardly remember this game with any great fondness as true goal scoring chances were few and far between in the first half. His first attempt came after only 3 minutes when he chipped the ball to the far post but Manuel Neuer made the first of the string of excellent saves to frustrate the English visitors. Moments later the much courted Neuer showed great reflexes to deny Chicarito close range.
His greatest save of the first half came close to the end when Ryan Giggs’ run through the centre of the Schalke defence presented the Welshman what would appear a simple finish, but Neuer stood up for an age and deflected the ball wide of the net. To call Schalke a one-man side would be harsh but Neuer was singlehandedly, keeping United scoreless.
With the start of the second period came more waves of United attacks, once again all were quelled by the magnificent Neuer but United finally broke the German stopper when Chicarito smashed a volley home only to see the offside flag raised. United were becoming frustrated both with their own profligacy and the tenacious resistance provided by the Schalke defence.
The defensive unit of United was having a starkly different evening. Schalke offered a surprisingly small amount of attacking phases and Raul, the obvious target for the German side, had an astonishingly quite evening. The Spaniard is far and away the greatest goal scorer in the Champions League but on this showing he was going to have to wait a little while longer before he would grab his 72nd goal in this competition.
Ferguson’s side were continuing their siege on the Schalke goal and on 67 minutes the opening goal finally arrived. Patrice Evra cut inside and found Wayne Rooney who’s fake shot was enough to cause the Schalke defence to bite. He then slide the ball into the path of Ryan Giggs who tucked the ball home to give the visitors a well deserved, if long awaited lead in the contest.
And just like buses, the second goal of the game was just around the corner. Chicarito pace allowed him to create space in which Rooney found himself and the England striker hammered the ball beyond Neuer to give United a 2-0 lead in the tie. From here on in Schalke would have to overhaul their approach to the tie if they were to return to parity.
With United holding a two goal lead heading back to Manchester, it’s advantage to Ferguson. Schalke never showed their attacking muscle in this contest but this will vital if this tie is to be salvaged.