Champions League - United overawe Schalke
Tue, 26 Apr 21:34:00 2011
Manchester United took a giant stride towards the Champions League final with a one-sided 2-0 win over Schalke 04 in the first leg of their semi-final at the Auf Schalke Arena.
Incessant United pressure and a glut of chances finally told mid-way through the second half as Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney netted within two minutes of each other to give Alex Ferguson's side a clear advantage going into the return leg at Old Trafford next week.
Victory was just the eighth time in 20 outings United have beaten German opposition in the competition, and if next week's game in Manchester proves as one-sided as this match, a third final appearance in four years for Alex Ferguson's side is assured.
With Javier Hernandez and Rooney starting up front - support coming from the tireless Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia on the flanks with Giggs probing from midfield - the match belonged to United as they time and again found ways through an uncertain Schalke back line that was bereft of confidence.
The visitors could easily have been three up within the first quarter of an hour and would have been had it not been for one man - Manuel Neuer.
The goalkeeper, courted by some of Europe's biggest clubs including United, provided ample proof of exactly why he is so highly rated with excellent stops to deny Rooney, Hernandez and then Park inside the first 15 minutes.
Livewire Hernandez hit the side netting and dragged a shot wide of the upright before Neuer was called into action again, this time to deny the unmarked Giggs with a downward header amid some shoddy Schalke defending.
Neuer, who has confirmed he will leave Schalke at the end of the season - of undoubted interest to United, with Edwin van der Sar set to retire at the end of current campaign - then repelled another crisp Hernandez effort and neither Giggs nor Park could capitalise on the rebound.
But the two best chances of the first half came at the end of the period, when first Fabio - preferred at right-back to his brother Rafael and John O'Shea - blazed over the bar from 10 yards and then Giggs, who was clean through on goal, saw his effort well-saved by Neuer.
United's dominance of the opening period was total in terms of possession, territorial advantage and chances. All that was lacking was a goal. Yet they began the second half as they had ended the first - on the front foot, in control and creating chances galore.
And like in the first half, initially at least, they failed to capitalise on the glut of opportunities fashioned soon after the restart.
Michael Carrick, enjoying one of his better performances this season in the acres of space he was afforded in the middle of the park, headed on target only for Neuer to tip over before Giggs wasted his second great chance of the night, firing wide of the mark with his weaker right foot.
Hernandez then did find the back of the net, only to be flagged offside, but such was United's swagger, there was never a sense that it would be 'one of those nights'.
And in the 68th minute, United finally broke the deadlock and took the lead they so richly deserved, Giggs making amends for his earlier profligacy with an assured finish from Rooney's cute ball through.
Rooney doubled United's lead within two minutes, Hernandez playing the ball through for the England striker to fire low past Neuer.
With Schalke looking highly unlikely to trouble Van der Sar at the other end and the game effectively wrapped up, Ferguson was able to withdraw both Rooney and Hernandez with one eye on the weekend's crunch Premier League clash with Arsenal.
But even without the strike pair on the pitch, United could still have increased their advantage as Patrice Evra made good ground on the left hand side, only to fire wide of an upright.
The Red Devils are now unbeaten in their last 12 Champions League matches. A 13th and they will book their place in May's final against either Real Madrid or Barcelona.