Manchester United Beats Schalke 04 to Set Up Champions League Final With Barcelona

by Willie Gannon

Manchester United beat Schalke 04 at Old Trafford to set up a mouth watering UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona in Wembley on May 28.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s team dominated the 2nd leg with goals from Antonio Valencia, Darron Gibson, and a brace from Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira.

In making the final, the United boss becomes only the third manager in history to bring a team to the Champions League Final four times, joining a small but elite group of managers that include Miguel Munoz (Real Madrid – ’60, ’62, ’64, ’66) and Marcelo Lippi (Juventus – ’96, ’97, ’98, ’03) .

The Red Devils made ten changes from the team that beat Schalke 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, with only goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar retaining his place in the starting line up.

By contrast, Ralf Rangnick only made two changes to his starting team – despite being completely outplayed last week – by bringing in substitute Escudero and 17-year-old wunderkind Julian Draxler.

The latter being the second youngest Bundesliga player of all time and who was only making his 20th appearance for the Konigsblauen as the right sided support to the ex-Real Madrid veteran Raul Gonzalez in an attack minded 4-2-3-1 formation.

Since the Champions League began in 1992, only three away teams had ever kept clean sheets at Old Trafford in the knock out stages. Borussia Dortmund in 1997, Bayern Munich in 2001, and AC Milan in 2005. Add that to the fact that Schalke had never won a game on English soil and the omens were not looking good.

The game started with Schalke, as expected by many, playing without the same fear they showed in the first leg, and with Draxler and Jefferson Farfan in particular showing some good early touches.

Manchester United’s lack of pace up front with Dimitar Berbatov gave Schalke the ability to push their back four high up the pitch. Thus reducing the playing space in central midfield. In the first leg, the Red Devils literally ran amok in the middle of the pitch and completely dictated the flow of the game, but this time the Konigsblauen were at least making it a little harder for Paul Scholes, Darron Gibson and Anderson to run the game.

Despite Schalke performing better than they had in the first leg, United always seemed to have the ability to keep them at arms length. And just as Schalke were perhaps enjoying their best period of the two legs, everything fell apart.

A lazy pass by Raul in central midfield went straight to Anderson who found Gibson in the centre circle, Antonio Valencia immediately took off down the flank, as all good wingers should, and the Irish international found him in space with a pass of laser like precision.

Valencia, making only his 17th appearance of an injury ravaged season scored his third goal of the season with breath taking simplicity and in doing so he also scored Manchester United’s 300th goal of European competition.

The game was over as a contest five minutes later as Gibson drilled in from the edge of the box after Valencia had laid the ball off. In truth, Manuel Neuer really should have done better and the United transfer target’s mistake was every bit as bad as anything by the haphazard Heurelho Gomes.

Schalke were not prepared to roll over and lie down though, and perhaps knowing that they never really had a chance to qualify, they kept up their high level pressure game.

Chris Smalling was forced into a mistake on the edge of the box and Schalke worked the ball out wide to Farfan. His whipped cross was not dealt with by the scrambling United defence and Jurado pounced to score from the edge of the box.

Three goals in the space of ten minutes turned what was starting to look like a testimonial on its head, and Ralf Rangrick showed his further attacking ambitions by bringing on a striker, Edu, in place of a midfielder as the two teams returned for second half action.

The game, however, retained the same pattern of the first half with United keeping Schalke at bay and looking the more likely to add to their score.

Anderson almost obliged the 75,000 strong crowd at Old Trafford with a curling, dipping shot into the top corner of the far post. But Manuel Neuer made amends by clawing the net bound effort away when a goal looked certain.

Manchester United continued to force the game as Schalke’s confidence lessened. Chris Smalling had a goal chalked off for offside following a quickly taken corner kick before Anderson popped up with the icing on the cake by slotting the Red Devils’ third.

Nani, having such a fantastic season, showed some brilliant footwork and beat Jurado to the backline before pulling the ball back for the on rushing Brazilian. However, a last second challenge by Metzelder nicked the ball away from his toe as the two players lost balance, but Anderson was quickest to his feet and smashed a low drive past the helpless Neuer.

Minutes later and the former Porto star scored his second goal of the game. Dimitar Berbatov burst into the box and as Neuer advanced to close the angles he selflessly passed inside to the young Brazilian who scored into an open goal.

To their credit, Schalke kept looking for goals, and almost got their consolation in the 82nd minute after Edwin van der Sar found Edu’s shot too hot to handle. The ball bounced kindly for Klaus Jan Huntelaar but his effort was unfortunately chalked off for offside.

With the game well and truly over and with their massive support singing songs about United stars old and new, the Red Devils showed their professionalism and closed the game out as all good teams should.

They now travel to London for a re-match against the team who beat them in the Champions League Final in 2009, Pep Guardiola’s much heralded Barcelona.

Man Utd 4-1 Schalke 04

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Rafael Da Silva (Sub: Evra 60), Smalling, Evans, O’Shea, Gibson (Y), Scholes (Y) (Sub: Fletcher 73), Anderson (Y), Valencia, Berbatov (Sub: Owen 77), Nani.

Subs: Kuszczak, Evra, Owen, Giggs, Hernandez, Vidic, Fletcher.

Goals: Valencia (26), Gibson (31), Anderson (72), Anderson (76)

Schalke 04: Neuer, Uchida, Howedes (Sub: Huntelaar 79), Metzelder, Escudero (Y), Papadopoulos, Jurado, Farfan (Sub: Matip 75), Baumjohann (Sub: Edu 46), Draxler, Raul.

Subs: Schober, Sarpei, Edu, Schmitz, Karimi, Huntelaar, Matip.

Goals: Jurado (35)

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal)

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