FERGIE’S GAMBLE

United boss ready to rotate his squad with Sunday’s title
showdown against Chelsea on the horizon

MANCHESTER UTD vs SCHALKE

Man Utd lead 2-0 from first leg

MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson admits Sunday’s Premier League title decider against Chelsea has forced him to gamble with his team selection ahead of tonight’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Schalke.

United hold a commanding 2-0 advantage and have one foot in the Wembley final following their dominant display in Gelsenkirchen last week, but after seeing their lead at the top of the Premier League cut to three points last weekend, Ferguson will rest key individuals this evening, including Wayne Rooney, with a nod to Sunday’s Old Trafford summit meeting.

Chelsea virtually wrapped up the title last season with a 2-1 victory over a Manchester United side distracted by a European quarter-final against Bayern Munich and Ferguson is determined not to let history repeat itself.

“If you look at our experience of last year, the team were very tired against Chelsea in that next game after losing in Munich,” he said.

“All four semi-finalists lost this weekend too and there are certain statistics that tell you the European games do take it out of you.

“That has to have a bearing on my team selection. We have two massive games. Both as important as the other.

“Chelsea is massive, so I have to pick the right team on tonight to ensure I have the same kind of freshness I need for Sunday’s match.

“Hopefully I will have the nucleus of a team that is still good enough to win the match.”

It is likely that United would’ve have been without Rooney anyway, the England striker reported for training yesterday with a tight hamstring, while Fabio is likely to be replaced by his brother Rafael, but Ferguson confirmed Darren Fletcher will play some part having recovered from the virus which has sidelined him for the best part of two months.

Ferguson stands on the brink of etching his name even further into United folklore with a 19th league title and third Champions League crown up for grabs, and he advised the club’s fans to savour the moment.

“It is always dangerous in football to assume you have cracked it; that you have found a sliver bullet or discovered some secret formula for success,” said Ferguson.

“We live in exciting times for Manchester United and while I want both players and supporters to enjoy every minute of it, we must take nothing for granted.”

FORM GUIDE| BIG MATCH POINTERS

Man Utd last tasted defeat at home more than a year ago. They lost 2-1 to Chelsea on 3 April 2010, goals from Joe Cole and Didier Drogba effectively taking the Premier League title back to Stamford Bridge.

United’s last home defeat by more than a single goal was the infamous 4-1 hammering by arch rivals Liverpool back on Saturday 14 March 2009.

United’s last home defeat in Europe came way back in 2005, when Hernan Crespo gave AC Milan a 2-0 aggregate win, knocking United out in the second round of the competition.

United have never lost a European Cup home game by more than one goal, but the last time they conceded two was in bowing out to another German side, Bayern Munich, last season.

Schalke have lost just once in 10 European games – last week against United. Their unbeaten nine-game run was a club record, and included 10 goals in their last three games before the United defeat. They’ll need their shooting boots on again tonight, but Schalke can take some hope from their 5-2 thumping of last year’s champions Inter Milan at the San Siro in the last round.

Schalke’s away form has been mixed this season. They have only lost once on the road in Europe, against Lyon back in September, but in the Bundesliga they have lost eight and drawn four of their 16 away games.

Striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (left) has returned from a three-month absence with a knee injury and is available to play tonight. Huntelaar, who injured himself in training in February, has scored 10 goals in 30 appearances for the German side this season.
l Schalke are aiming to become the fourth German side to reach a Champions League final after Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich.