Tuesday, April 26, 2011

United Cruise, Despite Neuer Masterclass

Manuel Neuer, a future Manchester United goalkeeper perhaps? Certainly, the big German stopper showed no signs of affiliation with United, as he frustrated Ferguson's side for the best part of seventy minutes.
FC Schalke 04: Manuel Neuer

Flying this way and that, Neuer denied the likes of Chicharitio, Giggs and Evra as he kept his Schalke side in the game. Though goals from Giggs and Rooney eventually made up for all those United misses, Neuer can still exit this game delighted with his own performance, and furious at the performances of his teammates.

From the very first whistle it was clear that Manchester United were the better team, Michael Carrick dropped deep, protecting his two center halves, allowing the virtuoso Ryan Giggs free rein in the final third of the pitch. United were keeping possession well, and from the very early stages onward, it was clear that every one of their attacks would likely produce a goal.

However, a combination of United's profligacy in the final third, and Neuer's outstanding saves kept the Red Devils at bay until mid way through the second half, when Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney scored within a few minutes of each other. Those goals were greeted with as much relief as jubilation from the United contingent in the stadium, it was too soon after the semi final defeat to City for United fans to be relaxed after seeing their side miss opportunities.

Ryan Giggs celebrates putting Man United aheadIn the end, the Premier League leaders ran out comfortable victors over their German adversaries, Schalke looked like the team tenth placed in the Bundesliga, and not the one that shocked Inter at the San Siro three weeks ago. Operating on the counter, Rangnick's side never appeared likely scorers, due to a lack of pace in attack, forays forward were always slow, with even the so often superb Raul devoid of any kind of inspiration. With Raul not performing, the home side looked to their best player in that monumental win at the San Siro Farfan though, was well contained by the United midfield and defense, and with the only other attacker being the mediocre Edu, Schalke lacked bite up top.

As bad as Schalke were, United were also that good. Despite missing a hat trick of chances before finally scoring, Ryan Giggs was superb throughout, arguably United's Man of the Match, and still supremely fit at the age of thirty-seven. Upfront, Chicharito and Rooney continued to combine well, as illustrated by the second goal, when a cute Hernandez through ball gave Rooney a chance to score, one that he took with some aplomb. Rumors have been flying around today that Dimitar Berbatov's contract talks with the high ups at Manchester United have fallen through, meaning that the Chicharito-Rooney partnership could be one that lasts into next season and beyond.

In defense, United were never really tested, but the back four still had to keep their cool. Ferdinand as always read passes brilliantly while Vidic's ability to head a ball away from danger is still quite astounding. In the full back positions, Fabio and Evra got forward well, and both came close to scoring, first Fabio blazed and effort just over, before Patrice Evra was denied a rare headed goal, and then one on the break, when his daisy cutter of a strike flew wide with minutes to go. Like the central defenders, neither were stressed by an anemic Schlake attack, but their performances were still encouraging, especially heading into what will be a decisive series of fixtures.

2-0 winners, United are doubtless favorites heading into the second leg, a mere one goal would force Schalke to respond with four, a quite unlikely scenario. So, for a few weeks at least, United will be free to concentrate on the Premier League title race, one they will hope to have closed out in the next two weeks.

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