Man U cruises past an uninspired Schalke 04

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Man U cruises past an uninspired Schalke 04

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Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, right, scores during the Champions League semifinal second leg football match against Schalke 04 at Old Trafford in Manchester, Wednesday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]


Manchester United rang the changes for its Champions League second-leg semifinal yesterday to comfortably win 4-1 over a Schalke 04 team that looked deflated from the start.

The changes, nine in total from the team that started the first leg, were possible because of United’s 2-0 lead - and necessary because of Sunday’s game against Chelsea. The match at Old Trafford could decide the destination of the Premier League trophy.

But first, United had to deal with a Schalke team that, although poor in the first leg, had earned the right to play in the semifinal by beating holders Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate (with five of those goals coming in Milan) and before that, Valencia. Goals from Rooney and Giggs in Germany meant they could be rested and Ferguson could bring in players like Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Anderson, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson.

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One notable absence was Park Ji-sung. For a player who has become a core part of United’s team, his absence means he will almost certainly make an appearance against Chelsea on Sunday and will undoubtedly be a part of the squad that will take on Barcelona at Wembley on May 28.

Schalke started brightly and after only eight minutes, Jefferson Farfan found space 20 yards out but pulled his shot wide. Schalke would have had a similar game plan to Real Madrid on Tuesday, hoping to get to at least halftime without conceding and then looking to attack in the second half.

Dimitar Berbatov started as a lone striker for United and had support from Nani and Valencia. In the 13th minute, the Bulgarian, with some nice footwork, created an opening but his pull-back across goal was easily collected by Schalke keeper, and captain, Manuel Neuer. Neuer looked uneasy three minutes later as he flapped at a ball from a United corner. This was a sign of things to come.

The game was scrappy for the first 25 minutes, with plenty of loose passes and interceptions from both sides. It was a misplaced pass from Schalke right back Atsuto Uchida that led to a lovely through ball from Darron Gibson to Antonio Valencia, who tucked the ball in the left corner of the net.

Six minutes later and United was free to call and confirm hotel reservations for May 28. From a throw-in, Nani laid the ball off to Valencia, who kindly teed up Gibson. The Ireland international struck a good shot straight at Neuer who tried to scoop the ball up but managed to divert it onto the post and into the net.

Three minutes later and Schalke was handed the smallest of lifelines by Chris Smalling. The 21-year-old’s lackadaisical pass out of defense was intercepted and played out to Uchida, whose cross eventually fell to Jose Manuel Jurado, who expertly smashed the ball into the top corner. But it was too little too late. Three unnecessary yellow cards in five minutes for United brought the half to a close.

In the second half, United comfortably passed the ball around. Anderson scored in the 72nd and 76th minutes to make the score line more reflective of the ease with which United won the tie.

A few substitutions enabled Raphael, Scholes and Berbatov to take early showers, while Schalke gave a few of their players a run out at Old Trafford in a competition they will not be playing in next season.

After the game, United manager Alex Ferguson told British TV channel ITV, “After the first leg, we were quite well set up. That’s why we were able to make some changes and keep the majority of players fresh for the big game on Sunday.”

United will meet Barcelona at the same venue, Wembley, where it won its first European Cup 43 years ago. The game will also be the last for United’s keeper Edwin van der Sar, who told ITV, “It means a lot for the club [to reach the final at Wembley], for the players, for the fans, for Sir Bobby of course and for the manager.”

“This team can win the cup,” Ferguson added.


By Rob McGovern [robguv@gmail.com]

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