Sir Alex Ferguson can go a step closer to firmly cementing his place in the European Cup Hall of Fame with a win in Germany. Tonight’s semi-final first leg takes place in the raucous surroundings of the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen and the nut Sir is attempting to crack is Ralf Rangnick’s Schalke side.
Ferguson has already warned his players against thinking they’re already in next month’s Wembley final and it comes with good reason. The tie is United’s fourth semi in five years. However impressive that might be, the club’s record in knockout ties in the country is nothing to call home shouting about.
Looking back as recently as last season’s quarterfinal, the Mancunians succumbed to German champions Bayern Munich and have never won a knockout tie against a side from Deutschland. Die Knappen aren’t like other sides though.
They’ve rarely seen the top half of their domestic league this season and if Schalke’s hierarchy hadn’t dismissed manager Felix Magath, they might not even be at this stage. New boss Rangnick is one of those meticulous tacticians in the Mourinho mould. Dossiers on opposition players are as regular as Raul’s goals have been in this season’s competition and the Spaniard will be relied upon heavily in this tie.
Lucky for them, his record against the Red Devils are four goals in three games and he twice knocked United out at this stage of the competition when playing for Real Madrid. The scoring record of the two teams will also give Schalke reason to be optimistic as they have scored 21 to United’s 12 but with no clean sheet in the knockout phase of the competition, United are likely to score in both legs.
Obviously that’s if they can get past arguably the finest goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer, of course.
It should make a compelling encounter and the second leg could be made interesting should Schalke manage to pull off an unlikely victory.