MANCHESTER UTD vs SCHALKE
MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes his side are on the verge of shedding their European inferiority complex ahead of tonight’s Champions League semi-final against Schalke.
Ferguson is desperate to conquer Europe for the fourth time in the club’s history, and draw closer to the number of major titles earned by the likes of fellow continental heavyweights Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Real Madrid.
He said: “I think this is where we should be. My expectation has always been high in regards to the European scene, but we do get envious of the records of other clubs.
“We look at the records of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool and we are trying to get parity with that. We really need to progress quickly to get to that level.”
Barring the way to a third final in four years are the competition’s surprise package Schalke, who will be hoping to extend Ferguson’s jinx against German opposition in this competition. Twice Ferguson has lost at this stage against Bundesliga sides – to Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and Borussia Dortmund in 1997 – and despite their lowly standing in their domestic league, Ferguson won’t be taking Schalke lightly.
He said: “There is now way Manchester United are going to be led into believing this is going to be easy. I think you always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition. You go through the gamut of emotions when you get to these semi-finals because they are never easy.
“But what you have seen is that this team will not give in. Absolutely no chance.”
Wayne Rooney returns to the scene of one of his most infamous crimes – the sending-off for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final – with his manager under the opinion that his striker is back to his best following a year of struggles with form and fitness.
“I didn’t know the sending-off was in Gelsenkirchen,” said Ferguson. “But it’s normal for any footballer to put bad moments behind them.
“I think Wayne, more than anyone, realises that performances are the thing that he will always be judged on because there is an expectation of the boy. You see that he has stepped up to the mark for that.”
United travelled to Germany with a full strength squad, with the exception of striker Dimitar Berbatov.
SCHALKE | DANGERMEN
They might be surprise packages but the Bundesliga side have a solid spine capable of causing an upset
Raul: Ryan Giggs won’t be the only golden oldie on show tonight. The Spaniard is the competition’s all-time record scorer with 71 goals. At 33, he’s lost the majority of his pace but his predatory instincts are still intact
Georgios Papadopoulos: Samuel Eto’o came off considerably second best when the Inter Milan striker came up against the mountainous Greek defender. Wayne Rooney will present a different challenge, though
Manuel Neuer: The Germany international is one of the prime candidates to succeed Edwin van der Sar in the Manchester United goal. Similarities with former Bayern star Oliver Kahn extend beyond his blonde hair