Thursday, May 5, 2011

Champions League - Manchester United set up Barca final!!!

Manchester United cruised into a mouth-watering Wembley Champions League final against Barcelona after their second string thrashed Schalke 4-1 at Old Trafford, giving the Premier League leaders a 6-1 aggregate semi-final win...

Despite making nine changes from the 2-0 win in Gelsenkirchen United were in control for much of the game and, while Schalke showed more than they did at home, there was no real danger as goals from Antonio Valencia and Darron Gibson gave them a near unassailable lead.
Jose Manuel Jurado pulled one back to make it 2-1 at half-time but a second-half brace from Anderson put the result beyond doubt as Sir Alex Ferguson tinkering ahead of the Premier League title clash with Chelsea at the weekend was vindicated.
United have now qualified for three of the last four Champions League finals, a remarkable achievement given their perceived lack of spending power compared to Real Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona and now Manchester City.
Weakened this team may have been - only Edwin van der Sar and Valencia remained from the first leg - but it was still stuffed with internationals and more than adequately equipped to protect a 2-0 away lead.
A fairly even opening saw Schalke’s Jefferson Farfan fire wide after a driving run through the middle, while Dimitar Berbatov - starting as a lone striker - wowed the home fans with a couple of trademark turns and shimmies down the left, without producing anything of note.
Any doubtfires were put out when, following a loose pass from Japan right-back Atsuto Uchida, the highly-impressive Gibson released Valencia with an outrageous through-ball with the Ecuadorian firing low past Manuel Neuer.
That was on 26 minutes and five minutes later it was 2-0, with another error - this time an uncharacteristic fumble from Neuer - allowing Gibson this time to score with a low driven shot following a Nani pass.
If Neuer’s man-of-the-match performance in the first leg added £5 million to his value, this game must have knocked that right back off as the Germany keeper looked dodgy on crosses and even lost his temper with Valencia after some mild nudging at a corner, shoving the United winger in the style of Jens Lehmann.
Three minutes after United’s second though Schalke pulled one back, and while the hosts’ goals were direct results of mistakes Jurado’s strike was unstoppable and brilliant, connecting perfectly after Uchida’s cross came off Rafael to land nicely for the Spanish midfielder.
After a tense opening the game was taking the shape of an exhibition match as both sides attacked with abandon, Valencia guilty of hesitating as United broke from kick-off, taking enough time to decide whether to round Neuer or not that Benedikt Hoewedes was able to clear his finish off the line.
Despite having 4-1 aggregate lead, United appeared a touch rattled by that and briefly lost their cool as Paul Scholes, Anderson and Gibson all entered the book respectively for some needless incidents.
Ralf Ragnick made a brave half-time change, bringing striker on Edu, and the Germans begun the half well enough as Raul surprisingly opted not to finish with his weaker right when Jurado played him in. Farfan’s subsequent shot was blocked.
Neuer showed his usual form with a super one-handed stop from Anderson, while Chris Smalling was a yard offside when he netted a tap-in following a brilliantly-executed short corner routine.
Seconds later they did make it 3-1 as, at the second attempt, Anderson drilled a vicious low finish past Neuer after excellent work from Nani on the right.
The Brazilian, who played in the last Champions League final for United in 2009, staked a claim for a place in this season’s rematch with Barcelona when he tapped home a second from close range after an unselfish assist from Berbatov, who is set to miss out for the biggest game but put in a superb shift despite being sparingly used of late.
United were 4-1 ahead with a quarter of an hour left and they were enjoying themselves, substitute Michael Owen denied by an excellent Neuer save and Patrice Evra, also from the bench, volleying wide; for Schalke their own sub Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was disallowed a late consolation for offside after Van der Sar did well to keep out Edu’s drive.
The match was long won though as United saved their legs for the weekend - welcoming a return from illness for Darren Fletcher - and Ferguson plotted revenge for the 2-0 defeat to the watching Pep Guardiola’s Barca two years ago.

News & Pictures from:
Reda Maher / Eurosport

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