Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Schalke vs Manchester United – a preview

Schalke host Manchester United at the Veltins-Arena in Germany for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tonight. With United currently top of the Premier League and Schalke sitting in 10th place in the Bundesliga the game looks like a formality. However, at this stage of the competition nothing can be taken for granted.

It is the fourth time United have graced this stage of the competition in the last five years and go into the game unbeaten in Europe this season. They have travelled to Germany without Dmitar Berbatov who remains hampered with a groin injury having missed the Premier League game on Saturday. However, with 19 goal Javier Hernandez fit, and ready to start with Rooney the side possess a very potent threat.

Whilst Rooney has not been scoring freely, his new Mexican team-mate has settled into life in England far quicker than expected. His crucial goal on Saturday against Everton looks to have secured United’s 19th League title. Their link up play in recent weeks has been superb; Rooney seems able to find his runs at ease, often, he doesn’t even look.

At only 22 Hernandez has proved to be the buy of the season at only £6 million. He has a very good football brain and is probably the best finisher United have had since Solskjaer. It is not only having the pace to evade defences but it is having the intelligence to make use of the pace with the timing of your run. I have not seen better movement from a young player than the Mexican displays.

Meanwhile, whist United will showcase their new forward; they will also be facing someone who has knocked them out at this stage before. Much of the pre-match focus has revolved around Raul who just continues to break records in this tournament. He remains the leading scorer in the competition with 71 goals and the player with the most appearances, having played in 142 games. He has been fantastic this season and has already scored five times already.

Whilst they have done well in Europe their domestic form has been very inconsistent and it explains why they are 10th in the table. They lost 1-0 to Kaiserslautern at the weekend but did leave out several key players with tonight’s game in mind.

Although on paper the game should be one-sided, these games can often bring about the downfall of the favourite. Schalke have scored goals all the way through the tournament so United have to beware. They have been in similar positions in the Champions League before but you would think Ferguson will not let them think the game is over before it is played. It should be a fascinating game.

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