For the first time this season, I may say that Manchester United gratified us with a really good game, as they faced Schalke 04 at the Veltins Arena in Germany for the first leg of the CL semi final, and took back home a two-goal advantage, which should have been more in the end, but for the brilliant performance in goal by Neuer, who however had to bow out in front of the evergreen Welsh Wizard, Ryan Giggs, and the hardcore Wayne Rooney. Hats off to the Schalke fans as well, they kept on encouraging their team and unlike others, they did not boo United when the latter were in control of the game, they were there to sing and encourage their team, and did so in a fantastic manner, despite ending on the losing side for the night, but this is what I call real sportsmanship, “halten Sie die guten Geister hoch”, hope I got it right 🙂 .
The game promised to be a great one, given Schalke eliminated Inter Milan on a rather heavy aggregate, and given United’s recent form in the EPL, it seemed they were going to be for a rough night. But surprise surprise, although Schalke had the first attempt on goal in the first minute itself, it was all United afterwards. Rooney saw his shot palmed away by Neuer, and the latter was again called in action as this time Park tested him. Then Chicharito saw his shot saved by the young German keeper, and again minutes later saved from the former. He then saved from a Ryan Giggs’ header minutes later, and United pegged them back in an attempt to score the first goal, but which was still eluding them as Chicharito was denied again and Park saw his shot blocked by a defender in the process. Giggs then got an incredible opportunity to score near half time, where his footwork got him past the defenders, but on the wrong foot as he shot completely wide. 0-0 at half time, Schalke’s savior was named Neuer and deserved the applause he got from the home fans.
The second half saw United a bit slow to get out of the starting blocks, as Farfan made a dash forward but failed to deliver the ball properly. But Neuer was called in action again as he saved yet again to deny United the opener. The game was a little more balanced than in the first half. Chicharito found the net on the 50th minute, but was ruled out offside. Nevertheless, this seemed to have shown the way to his teammates to break down Neuer’s resilience. Schalke were putting pressure although not really troubling Van Der Sar. United finally found the net on the 67th minute, as Rooney played a perfect pass to Giggs, who this time came one-on-one with Neuer, and on his favorite left foot, and slotted the ball between the keeper’s legs for a well-deserved opener. Two minutes later, Rooney himself was on the scoresheet, as Valencia played a pass to Chicharito, who in turn slotted it to Rooney and the latter made no mistake as he slotted it past Neuer. United then made changes to turn into a more defensive formation, and eventually ended the match striker-less, as Rooney made way for Nani, while earlier Chicharito was taken off. United held on and could have even added a third in the dying minutes had Nani played the ball in the box instead of selfishly trying to take on the defenders to score himself. 0-2 the final score in United’s favor, a big win and a big performance today, meaning they can easily qualify if they give a bis-repetita of this game in the return leg at OT.
Neuer really impressed today with magnificent saves in the first half, and also in the second one, but unfortunately, despite attracting United’s attention as a potential candidate to replace Van Der Sar, rumours are hinting towards a move to Bayern Munich instead, as they too are in search of a goalkeeper, and Neuer stated recently that he liked playing in the German league and wanted to win the league trophy before moving to new leagues. Not sure if SAF can persuade him to join, but we’ll have to wait and see. Next important match for United is against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the weekend, one which may well decide whether United can increase the gap and go on for title no. 19, or whether Chelsea will eat up the points and claim it in a dramatic finish.