Were Manchester United that good, or were the opposition just plain bad? I’d have to say it was more the latter.
Last night’s Champions League semi-final first leg at Schalke’s Gelsenkirchen stadium – where Wayne Rooney was sent off during the 2006 World Cup – was a shocking mismatch.
Bundesliga side Schalke were making their first apperance in the semis, and looked completely out of their depth. I’ve seen teams in the bottom half of the Premier League give United a better game.
United could have settled the tie within the first 20 minutes. I’m not kidding. They had two one-on-one situations and created a host of other chances, but were thwarted over and over again by the outstanding Manuel Neuer.
It was a trend that would continue until Ryan Giggs was presented with a chance on 67 mins that he just couldn’t miss, set-up brilliantly by a Wayne Rooney pass, who would then score himself two minutes later after another good through ball from Javier Hernandez.
United barely had to produce a performance. They stayed in second gear the whole way, choosing to keep the ball and frustrate the home crowd in a typical Champions League away performance – even though Schalke were there for the taking.
So, even without breaking a sweat or upping the tempo, and up against a quite terrific goalkeeper, United managed to score two. That says it all about how poor Schalke were.
The only other player from Schalke who deserves any mention would be Raul, who toiled selflessly up front to no avail, even after United were up by 2 goals and coasting. Now that’s the mark of a true legend.
But there wasn’t any individual performance worth mentioning from United either. Ferguson singled Antonio Valencia out for some praise, but he didn’t exactly set the pitch alight.
Without any pressure or energy from the Schalke engine room, Michael Carrick had one of his better nights in a United shirt too. But that’s about it. The rest of the team just showed up, and had the match handed to them.
Alex Ferguson called Neuer’s performance one of the best he’s ever seen against Manchester United, and went out of his way to shake the German international goalkeeper’s hand after the game. He surely must be hoping now that Neuer doesn’t have his mind completely set on joining Bayern Munich.
I’ve been advocating signing Neuer to all my colleagues here who would listen. Most of them feel Gianluigi Buffon would be a better choice (great keeper, but for me, he’s been injured way too often in recent years), but after last night’s performance, I’m gonna have a few in-your-face moments today =P