Manchester United moved closer to its fourth UEFA Champions League title by dominating Schalke, 2-0, in the first leg of a semifinal series Tuesday at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. My colleague Paul live blogged the game; Be sure to check out his post.
Second half goals from Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney sealed the victory for the Red Devils, although the score could have been doubled if not for the heroics of Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Neuer, who has opted not to renew his contract with Schalke to explore his options in the summer transfer window (United is a rumored front-runner for the keeper’s services), did well to keep the sides level until after the hour mark.
The German keeper was called into action early, and scrambled to tip a deflected shot from Rooney safely over the crossbar. Minutes later, Neuer was forced into a flying save to deny Javier Hernandez when Valencia’s cross found the striker at the far post.
Manchester United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, yet struggled to make the advantage count in the first half. Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave the speedy Portugese winger Nani on the bench in favor of defensive-minded Park Ji Sung reflected the manager’s desire to keep Schalke off the scoreboard. The Manchester defense kept Raul, the top scorer in the history of the Champions League, from taking a single shot.
In the second half, the free-flowing attack of Manchester finally won out, and in the 67th minute, Rooney made a well timed no-look pass to Giggs, who fired past Neuer for United’s first goal.
Two minutes later it was Rooney who was the recipient, latching onto a Hernandez through ball to make it 2-0. The game seemed set to open up for the visitors, but Schalke kept their composure and denied Manchester United a greater advantage going into the second leg.
The teams meet for the semifinal second leg next Wednesday at Old Trafford.