Having watched ‘United’, the emotive BBC Drama, which beautifully depicted what Man United stands for and the history behind it, I cannot think of a time to be more proud of the magnificent club we support. Tomorrow night, at the imposing Gelsenkirchen stadium, Sir Alex will lead out the team, in what is bound to be another incredible Champions League night. Up against an over-achieving Schalke side, the Reds will be hoping to justify their favourites tag with a positive result, to bring back to Old Trafford.
As expected, Owen Hargreaves & Darren Fletcher didn’t travel to Germany. However, more unexpectedly Bebe (to a lesser extent) and Dimitar Berbatov also failed to make the squad. Having been omitted from the Everton match, with a suspicious injury, his continued absence is fuelling speculation that his time at Old Trafford is up. In his absence, Sir Alex has only three strikers to choose from, in Rooney, Hernandez & Owen. If one of these were to get injured pre-match, it seems Gabriel Obertan will be drafted in as the substitute striker. Michael Owen will be hoping for a start, considering his happy hunting in Germany in the past – with hat-tricks against Wolfsburg & Germany!
In the middle of the park, I expect to see Carrick & Giggs return, having been rested at the weekend. Following their immense performances in the previous round, they will have to be at their best if they are to control the game in the Gelsenkirchen stadium. Out wide, I think Park is a certainty to start, considering the way Sir Alex admires his work-rate in these difficult Champions League ties. On the right, I think Valencia will get the nod over Nani, having performed much better in recent weeks.
At the back, Rafael Da Silva may well make a return, but he will have to displace his brother Fabio, who performed valiantly on Saturday. In the middle, Nemanja Vidic will return at the core of the defence but it is unclear as to who he will partner, with Rio a surprise selection against Everton – it remains to be seen whether he is fit enough to start 2 games in 4 days. On the left, I expect Patrice Evra to return, following his superb cameo appearance on Saturday.
Schalke have won every single one of their home matches in the Champions League this season.
Striker Raul has won the Champions League three times, all as a Real Madrid player, as many times as United have won the competition.
The Red Devils have never won a two-legged knockout tie against German opposition. They have lost all four attempts, most recently against Bayern Munich last season in the quarter-finals.
Michael Owen scored a hat-trick on his last appearance on German soil. The striker bagged all three goals as United beat Wolfsburg 3-1 in the group stages last season.
The German #1 is a lifelong Schalke fan, who it seems is destined to leave the club at the end of the season. A great shot-stopper, defensive organizer and high ball catcher, he has attracted the interest of clubs across Europe, including ourselves, but it seems he is reluctant to leave Germany, putting Bayern Munich in pole position for his signature. As one of the finest keepers in Europe, he’ll make it very hard for United to score, just as Inter Milan found out in the last round.
Hopefully he’ll have an off day!
Key Clash- Nemanja Vidic v Raul
At 33 years of age, he is no spring chicken but with 5 goals in his 10 CL appearances this season, he most certainly has the ability to perform at the highest levels. Highly admired by Sir Alex Ferguson, the Spanish legend turned down the chance to join United, in favour of moving to Schalke, where is he paid over £100,000 a week. The fact Nemanja was rested on Saturday is testament to the esteem in which Sir Alex holds Raul, who will even be a tough test for the imperious Vidic.
71 goals in 142 CL Games – World Class!
My Prediction- Schalke 1 1 Manchester United
With a place at Wembley possibly only two games away, Sir Alex will have reminded each and every player of the magnitude of this match. He knows that the result tonight will set the tone for the first leg at Old Trafford, where he will be hoping to have an away-goal in the bag. Schalke are a very fit side and seemed to have thrived in this knock-out competition but the Reds have the spirit and the experience to do the job in Germany. Come on the Reds!