Champions League: 5 Reasons Why Manchester United Won't Advance Past Schalke 04
After losing convincingly to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions' League (CL) final, I feared Manchester United would plummet from elite global power to marginally a top four side in the English Premier League (EPL).
In addition to failing miserably in their bid to become the first team to successfully defend a Champions' League Title, United sold megastars Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez without even attempting to secure adequate replacements.
With the club's debt steadily increasing under the ownership of the Glazer family, it appeared that United would no longer be able to pay the exorbitant transfer fees and wages necessary to secure the services of the World's best players.
Nevertheless, legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson crafted his notably more humble squad into an elite side which has demonstrated the capacity to succeed in both domestic and European competitions.
By protecting a 2-0 aggregate lead against Schalke in the return leg of the second Champions' League (CL) semifinal, United would secure a re-match of the 2009 final against Barcelona.
Yet, while fans begin salivating over this tantalizing CL Finals rematch, I fear that United will lose convincingly Wednesday marking one of the most spectacular CL failures in recent memory.
After United's 2-0 win over Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, Ferguson appeared unusually confident of his side's ability to win the return leg.
I'm surprised the mainstream sports media hasn't zeroed in on this comment as it appears to be a clear admission that Fergie is more worried about losing the Premier League race than he with guaranteeing his side advance to the CL final.
After losing to Arsenal at the weekend, it appears that the Scot has prepared some changes by promising both Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov that they would start in Wednesday's contest.
Playing sparingly in his two years at Old Trafford, the aging Owen has scored only a single EPL goal this season and has not even come close to bagging a CL goal.
While Berbatov may appear to be a good selection as he has bagged 22 goals in all competitions this season, I find him surprisingly ineffective.
While he has scored 21 of his 22 goals in the EPL, only three of these goals were scored against a team that is currently in the top-five of the table.
All three goals came in 3-2 win over Liverpool which preceded the Merseysiders' appointment of Kenny Dalglish as manager and acquisitions of Luis Suarez and Andrew Carroll.
With Owen and Berbatov starting, it appears that Fergie will leave leading Champions' League goal scorers Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Rooney on the bench for at least the first half.
While Fergie might claim that Rooney is currently injured, does anyone actually believe that the talismanic Englishman would not start if United were facing Real Madrid or Barcelona?
Finally, United are playing at home where they have not lost this season. This statistic surely has fans and players alike believing that the outcome of this game is a foregone conclusion...
After last Tuesday's contest, Ferguson complimented opposing goalkeeper and German international Manuel Neuer by remarking, "In my time at United, it is probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us. I am sure there have been other feats but tonight I saw a very good one."
Facing a strike force featuring an aging, washed up star in Michael Owen and a player with a well-documented history of inexplicable poor finishes in Dimitar Berbatov, I expect the impressive Neuer to keep a clean sheet for the majority of the game.
With 71 CL goals throughout his distinguished career, Raul has struck 15 times more than any other player in CL history. Leaving Real Madrid after 18 years with Los Blancos, most fans expected him to complete a big money move to the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.
However, the 33-year old elected to stay in Europe and moved to Schalke where he has continued to demonstrate his elite goal-scoring abilities.
Having bagged 18 goals in all competitions this season, five in the Champions' League, Raul remains a potent threat, especially when leading Schalke's vicious counter-attacks.
The former Spanish International's return to prominence is reminiscent of that of another former Madrid man, Fernando Morientes. After being forced out of the Madrid squad in 2003, Morientes was loaned to AS Monaco where he scored 9 CL goals leading Monaco on an improbable run past Madrid and Chelsea into the CL final.
Could Raul match the performance of his former teammate and lead his side to a CL final?
Schalke Injury Boost
Schalke will be relieved to return highly-rated center half Benedikt Howedes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Howedes has proven to be a fantastic central defender, but his spectacular CL goal against Inter Milan in the quarterfinals demonstrated that he has both the pace and the touch to contribute to the attack.
Huntelaar has never fully fulfilled expectations with many expecting him to replicate fellow Dutchman Ruud van Nistlerooy's success. N
evertheless, he is a decent poacher and looked dangerous while playing for AC Milan against Man U in last year's CL quarterfinals.
Don't be surprised if he captures a late goal which puts Schalke into the CL Final.
Schalke's Away Form
Recently drawing 1-1 against Valencia at the Mestalla and crushing Inter Milan 5-2 at the San Siro, Schalke will not be intimidated by playing at Old Trafford.
While overcoming a 2-0 aggregate scoreline may be difficult, it is not impossible.
In fact, if Barcelona can lose 2-0 at the Nou Camp to Hercules, I suspect Schalke could win 2-0 at Old Trafford.
United scores early in the contest through Nani.
Complacent in anticipation of a CL final rematch with Barcelona, Fergie's side commits several costly mistakes and Raul bags a hat trick.
Schalke defend relentlessly against a late United onslaught and finish with a 3-1 victory.