Over the years, the Champions League has brought out the best in Manchester United. There have been countless occasions were we have used the pinnacle of club football as our platform to impress. From drumming Roma 7-1 at Old Trafford in the 2006/7 competition to the immortal 2-1 comeback victory in the Nou Camp over Bayern Munich, we have been treated to some of the most entertaining matches by the Reds and this year has been no different. After beating Chelsea convincingly over 2 legs, we will be going into this match brimming full of confidence but one thing we cannot do is go into this game complacent.
Schalke have proven themselves to be the dark horse of the competition. Quietly trudging through the group stages, they exploded into the headlines a few weeks ago after coming back from the San Siro with an impressive 5-2 lead and continued their goal scoring form with a 2-1 victory at home to set up a meeting with United after knocking holders Inter Milan out 7-3 on aggregate. With United having failed to knock a German team out over 2 legs on the last 4 occasions (Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen twice and Borussia Dortmund), Schalke will be looking to continue the trend.
Who to watch
Since Raul made his switch to Schalke, he has re-found the kind of scoring form which made him one of the most dangerous strikers in the world at his peak. With 71 goals, Raul stands atop the all-time Champions League goalscoring tables and in a team such as Schalke, he will continue to pose a threat. It seems like Raul has found a new home from home and fit right in with the Bundesliga outfit. In recent news, Ferguson has told the media how he had the chance to sign Raul at the end of last season but with 4 fit strikers in the Manchester United line-up, he passed on the opportunity. He may now be regretting the move after Raul has shown he still has the credentials to be in a European starting XI. Have the Schalke fans warmed to Raul? Just have a quick look at the video below which came following Schalke’s 2-1 victory over Inter to set up the game with Manchester United:
If Raul is the perfect example of how a striker never loses his touch with age, then Hernandez is showing the sort of form this season that a young and aspiring striker could only dream of doing. After a £7 million move from Guadalajara in the summer, Hernandez showed great touch and finish in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and brought his natural ability straight into the Premier League. With 19 goals to his name in all competitions this season, Hernandez is scoring goals for United at all the right times. A brace against Marseille at Old Trafford in the Quarter final and a solitary goal against Everton at the weekend brings Hernandez into this game in hot form
With the Inter defence leaking goals, it will be a stern test for United to try and keep the free-scoring Schalke attack out. United will be glad to see that Rio Ferdinand is cleared fit to start alongside Nemanja Vidic, who was rested at the weekend against Everton and United will field a strong starting XI tonight. Despite what the bookies are writing this game up as, it is not a done deal and United will be happy to come away from this leg with an away goal. I hope the pace of Hernandez and the creative spark of Rooney will prove to be deadly like it has done many times this season. With Dimitar Berbatov out of the clash with the same groin injury that has kept him out of the past 2 games, Owen will be the only other named striker in the squad and all eyes will be on what is possibly the smallest striking partnership in Europe. Let’s hope United can put in another top class away performance and keep their 11 game unbeaten streak in Europe going all the way to Wembley. Come on United!
Predictions: Schalke 1-3 Manchester United