If Manchester United are to reach a third Champions League final in four years, they must overcome both surprise package Schalke 04 and a dismal record against German teams.
United visit Schalke for their semi-final first leg today, bidding to reach the final at Wembley – 43 years after they beat Benfica there – to become the first English champions of Europe. Schalke stunned holders Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and they have little to lose ahead of United’s trip to the Veltins Arena. It is the first time the Gelsenkirchen club has appeared in the last four of Europe’s premier cup competition, but they will take heart from United’s historic struggles against German opposition.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are yet to win in four two-legged ties against German teams. Bayern accounted for United at the quarter-final stage in 2001 and 2010, but more appropriate comparisons can be made with their semi-final defeats by Borussia Dortmund, in 1997, and Bayer Leverkusen, in 2002.
“The German teams have always had that resilience and determination about them and that will be exactly the same today,” said Ferguson. “We’re going into this game with far more experience than we have in previous years and our record away from home in the last few years has been terrific.”
Changes in the teams
Coach Ralf Rangnick shuffled his pack in a bid to keep key players fresh and he is expected to restore midfielders Jose Jurado, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Alexander Baumjohann to the starting XI. Centre-back Benedikt Howedes is also set to return from injury.
“I selected the team in such a way because I wanted to win both of our games,” explained Rangnick. “In the Champions League, we will select a different starting-eleven again.”
United also made
wholesale changes against Everton and captain Nemanja Vidic will return to the heart of the defence after being rested for the Merseysiders’ visit. Right-back Rafael could start after returning to the squad following a hamstring injury.
United without Berbatov
Manchester United’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov will miss the semi-final against having failed to recover from a slight groin strain.
Although he was unlikely to start anyway, his absence is a blow as it denies Ferguson a useful attacking weapon on the bench should the match not go as planned.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2011.
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