It was a second-string Manchester
United outfit; it was a dead tie from the first leg; it was a hopeless
mismatch; it was a Champions League semi-final, but you would not have thought
The decision to make wholesale changes to his side caused Sir Alex Ferguson to
have more sleepless nights than when Steve 'there's never a bad time to talk
tactics' McClaren was his number two, but his decision to heavily rotate was, in his own words, vindicated.
We were told that this Schalke
side had contributed a great deal to European football by swiping aside the
insipid Rafael Benitez/Leonardo-uninspired Internazionale, that it was
refreshing to have a new presence at the last-four stage.
But for all the prestige and hype
which goes hand in hand with Europe's premier competition, it was a dismally
uncompetitive two-legged encounter at a stage when tense,
exhilarating battles should be expected.
Did Ferguson do the competition a
disservice by fielding a heavily-depleted side? No. It was already 'disserved' by
the fact that United had wrapped up the tie with such consummate ease courtesy of a
clinical first-leg demolition.
The Scot only made the nine changes between the two legs because he could. It was Schalke's job to ensure that United were not presented with that opportunity.
'But for Manuel Neuer it could
have been many more' - that was the second paragraph of virtually every match
report after the first leg in Gelsenkirchen and, had it not been for the German
shot-stopper, the margin of aggregate victory could indeed have been far greater
Ferguson spent the build-up to
the second leg at Old Trafford extolling the virtues of German sides' character
and robustness, but Schalke merely went down like Sergio Busquets being struck by a stray balloon.
It really does say something
about the flaccid nature of the semi-final that United were keen to simply 'get
it out of the way' in the manner of a fourth-round Carling Cup replay.
The Premier League leaders were able to prematurely switch their focus to 'the big one' as they prepare to face a resurgent
Chelsea in one of the only 'Super Sunday' clashes worthy of such billing.
In what was an almost
embarrassing cakewalk for United, Ferguson was afforded the luxury of making
eight changes from Sunday's defeat to Arsenal - enough to make Carlo Ancelotti
curl up that Hercule Poirot eyebrow of his in disgust.
If Darron Gibson can make one and
score one while Anderson bags a brace, that is enough justification to say that
Schalke were not fit to hum along to the 'Champions League' at the semi-final
As Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney
and others sat like club trainees in their tracksuits, drilling their half-time
energy bars, they must have been wondering like everyone else, 'Is this really
a Champions League semi-final I'm watching here?'
While Ferguson was left to
celebrate, an almost
inconsolable Ralf Rangnick bemoaned his side's progress in the competition.
"We have to admit we possibly could have gone out in earlier
rounds... we came to our level this evening," he said despondently.
It has not been a great
tournament. No doubt about it.
The quarter-final stage saw
fearful hammerings dished out to Inter (7-3 on aggregate to Schalke), Tottenham
(5-0 on aggregate to Real Madrid) and to Shakhtar Donetsk (6-1 on aggregate to
And now Schalke in the semis... we're
not talking about classic European clashes here.
This year's Champions League has
one game left to redeem itself.
OF THE DAY: "Manchester United are the
favourites. They are a great team that also like to play football. We finally
got our reward and we're going to the final. We feel so happy. I hope we can
win but Manchester are a great team." Call it mind-games, but seriously - but who has been spiking Barcelona midfielder Xavi's isotonic?
VIEW: Villarreal trail the rampant Porto 5-1
on aggregate in their Europa League semi-final clash, but that hasn't stopped
goalkeeper Diego Lopez hyping up his side's chances of reaching the showpiece
match in Dublin.
Lopez said: "We believe in ourselves
first that we can turn the tie around. In the dressing room we are convinced
that we can achieve it. We are ready to show that we are a great team and that
we can beat them. We have total confidence that we can each have a perfect game
and achieve something historic. Something that would be remembered for a long
UP: It's the Europa League for you tonight,
folks. Sporting Braga will look to overturn a 2-1 deficit as they host
compatriots Benfica at the Estadio Municipal de Braga, while Villarreal aim
to... well, no, just forget it. The Spanish side have already lost their
semi-final tie with Porto.