UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg
Venue: Veltins Arena Kick off: 19:45
Manchester United will be looking to defeat German opposition for the first time in a two-legged European tie, with Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich (twice) having got the better of the Red Devils in the past. United go into tonight’s game in Gelsenkirchen as favourites but will be aware that Shalke have regularly upset the odds in this season’s Champions League, recently dumping out last season’s winners Inter with an emphatic 7-3 aggregate win. Ralf Rangnick’s team are unbeaten in their last nine European clashes, winning all five home games in this season’s competition. However, the Shalke strikers know they will have their work cut out tonight, with United yet to concede a goal away from home in the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have also lost just one of their last 22 away outings in Europe’s elite competition and will arrive in Germany unbeaten in 11 European matches. While difficult to break down, United have the worst goal-scoring record of all four Champions League semi finalists, finding then net on only 12 occasions this term.
Shalke defender Benedikt Howedes remains a doubt but Rangnick will give the German U21 international every opportunity to recover from a stomach strain. The Shalke coach may be forced to reshape his entire team should Howedes not make it. Kyriakos Papadopoulous and Peer Kluge have both recovered from minor setbacks and should be passed fit for tonight’s game.
United will be without Dimitar Berbatov who has stayed in England to receive treatment on a groin problem he picked up last week. Midfield pair Owen Hargreaves (shoulder) and Darren Fletcher (virus) remain unavailable for United but Sir Alex Ferguson will be able to call upon the services of John O’Shea after the defender recovered from a knock he picked up in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Everton.
United will have to be on their guard against Shalke’s talismanic striker and all-time leading goalscorer in the competition Raul Gonzalez. The Spaniard has netted no fewer than 71 times in the Champions League and has won the competition on three occasions, twice helping to knock out Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand will have to keep a close eye on Raul if they are to maintain their impressive defensive record.
United know that a shut-out will give them a fantastic opportunity to reach the final at Wembley on May 28 but will also be keen to come away from Germany with an away goal. While they have struggled for goals in this season’s competition, Shalke will be wary of the threat posed by Wayne Rooney, who has seemingly returned to form in recent weeks. And with Ryan Giggs pulling the strings from midfield, United will be confident they can end the hoodoo against German opposition.