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Manchester United stroll into the Champions League final

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Manchester United 4 – 1 Schalke 04

Manchester United will play their third Champions League final in four years at Wembley on Saturday 28 May 2011. The red devils sealed their place in the final with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Schalke at Old Trafford, winning the tie 6-1 on aggregate. Their opponents at Wembley will be Barcelona, who reached the final by defeating their arch-rivals Real Madrid 3-1 overall in the other semi final.


Manchester United fans around the world shuddered as the home side’s starting XI was announced. Even more so as last year’s unfortunate elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the same competition is still vivid in the minds. That Sir Alex Ferguson had chosen to make nine changes to the side that defeated Schalke in Gelsenkirchen a week ago appeared to be underestimating the Germans who had eliminated Inter Milan in the previous round. Indeed, the team that was fielded by Man United’s manager had the allure of one participating in a Carling Cup match rather than in a Champions League semi final. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Park Ji Sung, Wayne Rooney and Chicharito were amongst the ones who made way for Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea, Darron Gibson, Nani, Anderson and Dimitar Berbatov.


United’s stand-in players soon showed that there was no need to worry as they dominated from the start. Nani quickly posed a threat and Berbatov produced some magic on the left wing before his pass to Valencia was intercepted by Neuer. Schalke did seem livelier than they were eight days ago in Germany and their players attempted to press their United counterparts, but there was not much they could do against players who were determined to repay Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith in them.


Manchester United so much as put the tie beyond Schalke’s reach in the 26th minute, going 3-0 up on aggregate. The move started with Anderson collecting the ball from a stray pass in midfield before finding Gibson. The latter produced a sumptuous pass that even Andres Iniesta would have been proud of to set up Antonio Valencia on the right wing. Man United’s No. 25 needed only one touch to control the ball before sending it drilling beneath Neuer and into the back of the net.


The Man United fans had more to celebrate less than five minutes later, as Darron Gibson, an unlikely hero on the night, doubled the hosts’ lead. Following Rafael’s throw-in, Anderson and Valencia played the ball to Gibson, who met it with a powerful shot. Although it was aimed directly at him, Schalke’s goalkeeper couldn’t control and spilled the ball, which bounded off the inside of the post to roll into the net.


Schalke’s players were resolute on putting up a fight though and four minutes later, Jurado seized on United’s failure to clear a cross inside the box to place an unstoppable shot between Van der Sar and the left post. There were no other goals to report in the first half, although Valencia had a shot cleared off the line. Perhaps confused by the sight of Pep Guardiola in the stands, the referee was prompt in distributing yellow cards and Gibson, Scholes and Anderson had all been warned by half time.


United continued to press forward in the second half and Neuer was summoned for duty again in the 55th minute to deflect Anderson’s powerful shot that seemed goal-bound. The German was less effective against the Brazilian in the 72nd minute though and this time he couldn’t prevent Anderson from getting onto the scoring board. Nani started the move with a devastating run down the right wing before cutting back the ball to Anderson, who defeated Neuer with his second shot, after this first attempt had been blocked by Uchida.


Anderson was on the mark again four minutes later, this time scoring from a tap-in after Dimitar Berbatov had unselfishly set him up with an inch-perfect pass. The Old Trafford crowd was in delight as Manchester United seemed more than ever to be Wembley-bound. There was still time for a Michael Owen cameo, the Manchester United substitute forcing Neuer to produce a spectacular save.


As the United fans went through their full repertoire Wembley songs in the final minutes, thoughts starting drifting towards more pressing matters, including the crucial match against Chelsea in the premier league on Sunday.

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