by Ifreke Inyang
Just like the Barcelona – Real Madrid game, this semi-final tie was settled from the first leg. Both common sense and statistics are the conspirators-in-chief. No team in the Champions League era has ever overturned a two-goal home defeat to progress on aggregate. Such is the scale of the task facing Schalke when they visit Manchester United on Wednesday evening for a game that will decide which side progresses to the final of the Champions League to play Barcelona at the new Wembley Stadium.
United’s dominant performance in Germany saw them secure a 2-0 victory in the first leg thanks to goals from Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. It was only a remarkable performance from Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer that kept the scoreline respectable. The margin of that victory, coupled with the fact that United are unbeaten at Old Trafford in all competitions this season, surely ensures it is Sir Alex Ferguson’s men who will take part in the Wembley showpiece for their third final in four years. However, the job must still be finished to eradicate any lingering doubt.
Complacency is a threat. Especially when Schalke scored no less than five goals when travelling to the home of the European champions Inter in the previous round. But Sir Alex Ferguson may still choose to rest players with a decisive Premier League game against Chelsea approaching on Sunday. The United manager, who saw his side lose 1-0 to Arsenal at the weekend, has suggested that Wayne Rooney could be rested, with Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen possibly starting in attack against Schalke and Paul Scholes coming into midfield. Rooney missed the start of United’s training session on Tuesday, due to a tight hamstring, while Darren Fletcher could return after spending two months on the sidelines with a virus. Fabio suffered a knock in the defeat to Arsenal and is unlikely to feature.
Schalke’s mission improbable could be helped by the possible return of defender Benedikt Howedes, who missed the first leg due to injury but has trained in the build-up to Wednesday’s game. It is also reported that striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could end his prolonged absence due to a knee problem to take up his place in attack alongside Raul, who is the European Cup’s all-time record goalscorer. Raul has fond memories of Old Trafford having scored a famous goal for Real Madrid following a back-heel from Fernando Redondo in April 2000, with Real progressing into the semi-finals with a 3-2 win on that occasion. The brutal truth is that similar heroics would not even be enough for Schalke on Wednesday. I totally expect Manchester United to win and progress. And they should do so with some comfort. So, miracles and magic apart, we should have the repeat of the 2009 finals, this time at the new Wembley Stadium.