Giggs, at 37 years and 148 days, becomes the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history. [GALLO/GETTY]

Manchester United took one step closer to a European Champions League final with a masterclass performance over a lacklustre Schalke 04 in Gerlsenkirchen, Germany on Tuesday night.

Striker Wayne Rooney continued his brilliant return to form setting up one goal and scoring another just two minutes later to help the English league leaders to a convincing 2-0 first-leg win.

Schalke's only redeeming feature was the brilliant performance from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who kept his side in the game for the first half. But it was only a matter of time as United created dozens of chances before veteran Ryan Giggs scored in the 67th minute and Rooney netted in the 69th.

'Professional performance'

"It was a very professional performance tonight," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

"The concentration, intensity and passing were all top class. They have all done fantastically well."

United now look set to reach the May 28 final at London's Wembley Stadium against either Real Madrid or Barcelona, barring an upset next week in the second leg at Old Trafford.

Neuer's heroics prevented United from scoring earlier, but in the 67th he was finally beaten.

Rooney held off three Schalke defenders and slipped a perfect through ball to Giggs, who slotted the ball between Neuer's legs.

Two minutes later, Javier Hernandez was allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the area and pass to Rooney, who drove past Neuer inside the near post with a low shot.

Rooney believes his team could have scored more.

"We're delighted but a bit disappointed in terms of not scoring more," he said.

"We have done very well. We have to be professional for the second leg as Schalke can't be taken lightly. They went to Inter and won 5-2 (in the first leg of their quarterfinal)."

Alex Baumjohann fired the first shot less than a minute into the game after splitting the United defence, but Edwin van der Sar had no trouble catching the ball.

At the other end, Rooney's deflected shot nearly beat Neuer, but instead brought a corner.

Antonio Valencia then fed Hernandez but Neuer was well placed to stop the effort, after earlier parrying a drive by Park Ji-sung.

Fabio had a great solo run and outpaced three Schalke defenders but ran out of steam before threatening Neuer.

Neuer way through

In the 14th, Hernandez beat the offside trap but could not beat Neuer as the Schalke goalkeeper somehow scooped the ball.

Hernandez shot wide in the 21st, then dispossessed Kyriakos Papadopoulos and swapped passes with Rooney, only to have Joel Matip make a desperate clearance.

Hernandez again came close in the 26th minute but shot wide across the goal from a tight angle.

In the 28th, Neuer made a stunning reflex save from a close-range header from Giggs off a cross from captain Nemanja Vidic.

Hernandez had another effort parried by Neuer in the 37th, Park got the rebound but Atsuto Uchida hurled himself before the South Korean to block the effort.

With the Red Devils dominating late in the first half, Fabio sent a left-foot effort over the crossbar.

Results & Fixtures

Tuesday April 26

 Schalke 04 0-2 Man Utd

Wednesday April 27

 Real Madrid v Barcelona

Tuesday May 3

 Barcelona v Real Madrid

Wednesday May 4

 Man Utd v Schalke 04

Neuer, easily the busiest and arguably the best man on the field, was nearly beaten by Giggs after a counter attack but somehow stuck out his right hand to palm the ball away.

Hernandez did find the net, but he was flagged offside.

One of Schalke's rare forays outside their half finished with Jose Manuel Jurado's mistimed volley off a cross from Jefferson Farfan.

With Schalke shaking off some of the pressure, Raul Gonzalez sent a useful cross to the far post but the United defence rose to the task.

Edu then tested Van der Sar, who smothered the ball in the 65th. But United responded with two quick goals and then cruised until the final whistle.

"We have to accept the fact that they were so much better," Schalke defender Christoph Metzelder said.

"Apart from the opening 15 minutes we did not get into this game at all. But we will give everything we have at Old Trafford."

Ferguson's side are firmly in the driving seat ahead of next week's return leg when they will seek to book their place in the Champions League final for the third time in four seasons.

Source: Agencies