United line-up: Van der Sar – Rafael, Smalling, Evans, O’Shea – Gibson, Scholes, Anderson – Valencia, Nani – Berbatov
Surprised, that’s a ton! of missing firepower. I would have thought that either Vidic or Evra starting was a certainy.
Schalke: Neuer – Uchida, Höwedes, Metzelder, Escudero – Papadopoulos, Jurado – Farfan, Baumjohann, Draxler – Raul
Maybe an appropriate sub-title juxtaposition here is “Excuses, excuses, excuses.”
First, Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Somewhat appropriate perhaps that the team he forsook for the paella and weather of Madrid, Manchester United, is one draw or even less away from the Champion’s League final.
The offensive components added in Ronaldo’s absence merely Antonio Valencia (who hasn’t been the same since his injury) and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. (Perhaps Dimitar Berbatov as well but that’s debatable given his ratio of plays made to minutes played.)
Even Sir Alex Ferguson conceded, in commentary on Inside United, that his “team might not have the ‘Ronaldo’ factor” but acknowledged “that it [Man United] doesn’t understand the word defeat. It’s determined, gritty and very professional, and it’s produced some great moments.”
Somewhat poignant words as it was just two years ago that Ronaldo himself criticized the much revered Ferguson’s gameplan when United fell to Barcelona in the Champion’s League Final.
Last year, it was Ronaldo complaining about tactics again, this time as Real Madrid fell to Lyon.
Today, Manchester United should see their way through to the final setting up a rematch of the 2009 Champion’s League final between the Premiership’s United and La Liga’s Barca and a subplot here would be–with none other than Jose Mourinho in charge these days at the Bernabeu–the grandiose commentary that the star of Ronaldo, all goal-scoring theatrics, aside is not as bright as it once projected to be.
His nemesis and his team’s main league rival just whooped them and the team he abandoned thriving without him.
The main plot of course is a Manchester United side not making any excuses and winning with a collective team effort.
On to the game.
Just like Kaka prayed to the heavens yesterday, Schalke finds themselves in the unenviable position of needing at least two away goals to have a chance today. It looks highly improbable.
It was none other than stalwart goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who had the second most touches for the home side last week. Schalke’s backline looked ambivalent about defending and Wayne Rooney, playing a lot more like a #10 these days, ran rampant over the central midfield challengers defenders and dropping potential dimes for pick-up around the Schalke 18-yard box.
Schalke will have to dictate the tempo today and take chances by flooding their outside fullbacks up the pitch. You cannot expect to sit deep and counterattack for two goals against the likes of the United backline who has tightened into late season form.
That means the Jefferson Farfan and Astuto Uchida on the right needs to be much better than the last affair where Evra and Park flat out shut them down and pushed up the pitch.
I think if you’re Schalke as well you need to take a chance and play a very high line forcing your central players, especially your holders Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Jose Jurado, up the pitch and demanding they engage the midfield linking combo of Giggs and Carrick before they get time on the ball. This was a huge problem in Game 1.
If Chicharito beats you over the top or on a through ball, I think, if you’re Schalke, you have to live with that tradeoff.
As for United, just like Barca yesterday, business as usual as they’ll manage the game through Giggs and Carrick in the middle and Sir Alex will pick again between Nani and Valencia for which player and which flank he wants to lob efforts in to keep the opponents boxed in.