Champions League – United too strong for sorry Schalke

by Ger McCarthy

Back Page Football and Hold The Back Page Podcast contributor Ger McCarthy looks back at a one-sided Champions League Semi Final victory for Manchester United over a hapless Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night.

Champions League Semi Final First Leg,
Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen,
Schalke 04 0 Manchester United 2

The most damning statistic to blight a woeful Schalke 04 display in Tuesday night’s 2-0 Champions League semi final defeat to Manchester United was the fact the English Premier League side created a whopping 18 scoring chances in 90 minutes. To be able to create that many opportunities away from home and in the semi finals of a Champions League tells you all you need to know about how poor Schalke were.

Ralf Rangnick’s side froze on the most important night of the Royal Blue’s season. In a year a star studded squad could only manage mid-table in the Bundesliga and lost the services of long time manager Felix Magath, Schalke simply never turned up. Were it not for the brilliance of former Manchester United transfer target Manuel Neuer between the sticks for the host side then United would have won by a greater margin.

EVERGREEN
If there is one criticism to be levelled at the Old Trafford club it is that they wasted a plethora of excellent chances before two goals in the 67th and 69th minute eventually sealed a fully deserved win. Wayne Rooney is coming into form at the most important time of the season for his club and the England international’s slide-rule pass to setup the evergreen Ryan Giggs was a real touch of class. Rooney’s first time finish for United’s second and match winning strike underlined the confidence oozing through the veins of one of the most lethal strikers in the game and capped another all action display form the former Everton striker.

A word too for Javier Hernandez who flicked a delicious ball into the path of Rooney for United’s second goal. The young Mexican striker has exceeded all expectations in his debut season for United by firing in 19 goals in all competitions. The comparisons being drawn between Chicharito and former Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer no longer seem farfetched and at 6 million pounds the Mexican hit man looks like one of the transfers of the decade.

Apart from the two goals Manchester United managed to convert the confident all round team display will have most pleased manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Antonio Valenica was a constant threat on the right wing and Michael Carrick was allowed dictate the pace of the match from the comfort of midfield. Of all the United players to catch the eye Ryan Giggs produced another vintage display on the left wing. The former Welsh international could have had a hat-trick but once again seemed to play the entire tie at his own pace and was always available for a pass or to track back and close down space with left-back Patrice Evra.

The fact Sir Alex Ferguson had the luxury of bringing on the experienced Paul Scholes and Nani demonstrates the depth of their squad heading into a busy and vital final few weeks of the season.

RELIEVED
Schalke can have little complaint with the final score and should be relieved the tie didn’t turn into a rout. Too often their strikers Raul and Edu were isolated up front as Jurado and Farafan struggled to make any kind of impact in the centre of the pitch with the brilliant Valencia and Park Ji-Sung winning the midfield battle hands down.

The most disappointing aspect of Rangnick’s team’s performance was the fact Michael Carrick enjoyed a 94% successful passing rate with Rio Ferdinand (87%) and Vidic (71%) close behind. What those statistics tell you is that United were afforded the freedom of Gelsenkirchen in their own half and allowed dictate the pace and tempo of the tie from the opening minutes. Schalke’s inability (or silly refusal) to close Manchester United’s moves down at source meant for far too easy an evening for United’s centre-backs and central midfielder.

The Germans face an onerous task in travelling to Old Trafford next week needing to score twice and also keep a clean sheet to have even the slightest hope of causing an upset. Going on Tuesday evening’s awful display in front of their home fans Schalke 04 are now simply playing for pride while Manchester United already have one eye on Wembley.

LAST WORD
Manchester United were clinical, professional and utterly dominant in a comprehensive 2-0 victory away to Schalke 04 on Tuesday night. The final score does not do justice to United who could and should have won by a lot more.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s display should be balanced against a bitterly disappointing performance from the Royal Blues who never got out of neutral let alone first gear. Despite a full house and crackling atmosphere the Gelsenkirchen Stadium was silenced for much of the tie with the Premier League side allowed far too much time and space.

The bottom line is that Manchester United are heading for Wembley and can look forward to a comfortable build-up to the second leg at Old Trafford safe in the knowledge

Match Statistics courtesy of OptaJoe via Twitter (Opta Sports)
• 10 – Ryan Giggs’ opener v Schalke was his 10th Champions League away goal and his first in Germany for 10 years (April 2001 v Bayern). Vorsprung.

• 13 – More than half of Wayne Rooney’s Champions League goals have come in the knockout stages (13/23). Attitude.

• 56 – Michael Carrick made a game-high 56 passes in the first half v Schalke, completing 91% of them. Conductor.

• 12 – Man Utd had more shots in the first half v Schalke than they did in 90 minutes in either of their Quarter Finals vs. Chelsea. Dominance.

• 384 – The last time Man Utd conceded a goal in a CL away game was 384 days ago to Ivica Olic of Bayern. Defence.

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