Has a Champions League semi-final second leg ever seemed so surreal for United supporters?
I am normally excited all week and bubbling on match night but tonight, I felt departed. Complacency is a horrible demon but it was impossible not to be tonight, such were the changes to the team. Prior to the kick-off, the camera panned across the fantastic mosaic that Stretford End Flags organised as 33,000 fans held up a tribute to the 3 European Cups that United have won. Going into the game, United were formidable favorites at 1/40 to go through to the final due to the 2-0 lead they held from the first leg, so hopefully some avid United fans wanted to win £1 tonight.
United came out and did what they would of wanted to do by half time. They killed the tie. The first goal from Antonio Valencia came from a fantastic, cutting throughball from Darren Gibson which left 2 defenders for dead and a slotted finish from Valencia under the leg of Neuer finished the move. The second goal was a reversal of sorts. Valencia lay the ball invitingly for Gibson to put his foot through and Neuer played hot-potato with the ball, letting it bounce off of his palms and off the post into the back of the net.
Schalke did, however, manage to get on the scoresheet. A mistake from Smalling let Schalke gain possession high up the pitch and a cross from wide ended up bouncing off Evans and down to the feet of Jurado, who smashed a half volley into the net. Not a bad finish but I am glad that it didn’t mean anything. We scored 2 goals first and ended the tie before 30 minutes and going into half time, we were looking smooth. Some may have slightly questioned SAF’s decision to make 9 changes against a Schalke team that managed to score 5 goals away at Inter Milan this season but note to self, never question SAF again!
The second half went much the same way as the first half. United and Schalke were trading possession in a game that was played mostly in the middle of the park. I have to give a well deserved special mention to Darren Gibson. He got a goal and an assist in the first half and continued to play very well in the middle of the park into the second. After recently being in the news for shutting down his Twitter account within 2 hours due to abuse from United ‘fans’. Great character and presence tonight Darren, you did yourself proud.
Go on Anderson! I am glad he managed to get himself on the scoresheet…twice. You can tell that Anderson is a goalscoring midfielder but just needs to find a run of goals to gain the confidence you need in the English game. Go on Ando! The game just got better and better for United as we saw the return of Darren Fletcher for 15 minutes. It is a big return for us and I am hoping that he will use this month to regain the energy and fitness we will need against Barcelona in the final.
What more do you want from a semi-final performance than a 6-1 aggregate victory? Fantastic performance. We needed this sort of win before the game on Sunday when Chelsea will suffer the same fate! Pep Guardiola watched the game from the crowd and the build-up for this game will be an intense month. It is hard not to fear Barcelona, such is their capability on the pitch but United will not go into this final without knowing they can win. This time, we fight. I will be running an updating series of posts concerning the final but get the dates in your diary and see you at Wembley when we will make it 2 out of 2 European Cup victories on the hallowed turf.