Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen
April 26, 2011, 18:45 GMT
The semi finals of the UEFA Champions league are upon us. The attention of Europe would be focused on the glamourous duel between the Spanish giants, while FC Shalke would play host to England’s lone hope- Manchester United. The stage is set, and Veltins-Arena in Germany would be swamped in a sea of blue as “The Royal Blues” would look to move a step closer to claiming their maiden Champions League crown. The year 1997 witnessed the greatest moment in the proud history of Shalke, as they won their first major European trophy by beating Internazionale in the UEFA Cup final. Fourteen years later, the moment of truth is here again for Ralf Rangnick’s men.Man United, on the other hand, would be itching to make their third trip to the finals in four years; with the Wembley arena staging the championship game, motivation should not be a problem for Fergie’s troops. However, Germany hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Red Devils in Europe, as time and again the men from Manchester have come up a cropper against the resolute Germans. Ferguson knows this tie provides an opportunity like never before, for setting the record straight.
Schalke have defied all odds to reach the semifinals of the Champions League for the first time in their history. Although they have struggled in the league where they are languishing in 10th place, Schalke have been a different team altogether in Europe’s elite competition. The Germans have won all of their home games in the competition, scoring 13 times in the process while conceding only 3. Although they were rank outsiders to reach the semis, they can hardly be underestimated, as they proved in the quarter-finals by dispatching champions Inter Milan with ease, including an incredible 5-2 hammering at the San Siro.
United, on the other hand, will be playing a fourth semi-final in the last five years, after coming out on top in an all-England tie against Chelsea in the quarter-finals. The Red Devils have come this far in the competition largely on the basis of their stern defence, which has seen them concede only two goals in the entire competition, none of them coming away from home. Sir Alex would be hoping for another solid display from his team, and would surely love to have an away goal to take to Old Trafford next week. However, with United still without a win against German opposition in a two-legged tie, Sir Alex would be knowing that the game would not be as easy as many are predicting it to be.
Team News And Tactical Brief
With nothing to play for in the league, manager Rangnick did not have to play his strongest team at the weekend,using it as an opportunity to rest his first team players ahead of the big clash in midweek. However, there are injury worries for the manager; Benedikt Howedes is a doubt for the game, while Huntelaar and Gavranovic are still on the road to recovery. Farfan will be back from suspension after missing the second leg against Inter Milan, and is expected to start the game.
Rangnick is likely to go with the attacking formation that proved so successful against Inter Milan. Raul and Edu would once again be the two strikers up-front, with Farfan providing able support as an attacking midfielder. Juardo and Daxler would play on the wings, but Matip is the most vital man in the midfield for the home side. Matip would have to be on top of his game, with Rooney playing in the hole for United. The Englishman caused a lot of trouble to Chelsea from that position, and if Schalke have to do well, Matip has to negate Rooney. Sarpei and Uchida, who both had excellent games against Inter, could also cause a lot of problems for United’s defence.
Probable Starting Line-up: Neuer; Uchida, Hoewedes, Metzelder, Sarpei; Jurado, Matip, Papadopulos, Farfan; Raul, Edu
Sir Alex took a gamble at the weekend by resting star players like Vidic, Giggs and Carrick against Everton, but it paid off well in the end, as United won the game and these players got some much needed rest ahead of the season deciding couple of weeks for the Old Trafford outfit. Dimitar Berbatov would be missing the game with an injury, but other than that the manager has an entirely fit squad to pick his team from. Scholes, who has missed the last couple of league games due to suspension, is also back in the squad and is likely to play a part in the game at some stage. Rafael is also fit, after missing some games due to an injury sustained at Stamford Bridge in the previous round.
Sir Alex is likely to go with the same kind of formation that worked for him at the Bridge – Hernandez leading the line and Rooney playing off him, the latter dropping back from time to time to make a five man midfield for the away team. Giggs and Carrick are expected to be in central midfield, after both players were benched for the Everton game. The hard working Park Ji Sung is also expected to start, particularly as Sir Alex has shown his faith in the Korean for the big games and has more often than not been repaid. Valencia is likely to get the nod ahead of Nani on the right wing, especially with the attacking nature of the opposing full-backs in mind. It would be a toss up between O’ Shea and Rafael for the right back spot, but apart from the rest it would be a familiar look to the United defence with Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra and Van Der Sar.
Probable Starting Line-up: Van Der Sar, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael, Valencia, Giggs, Carrick, Park, Rooney, Hernandez
Key Match Facts
1) This is the first ever meeting between the two clubs
2) Raul has four goals in three matches against United
3) Sir Alex has guided United in six semi finals winning 3 and losing 3.
4) Raul, Papadopoulos and Jurado are one booking away from suspension while none of the United players are in danger.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Raul (Schalke 04)
The veteran has been in great form for the Royal Blues this season, proving why he is one of the game’s greatest players. He was a constant nemesis for Inter Milan in the last two matches. Sir Alex Ferguson has made no secret of his desire to sign him, and if Raul goes onto extend his European goal scoring record, the manager would regret of not getting the ex-Real Madrid man. If United have to keep Raul at bay, Vidic and Ferdinand have to be on their ‘A’ game.
Schalke 04 1-1 Manchester United
It would be a game of chess between the two managers, as Schalke would be going all out for a win while United would be hoping to get an away goal. In the end, it would be all to play for in the second leg at Old Trafford.