United prepare for Schalke as Chelsea loom

Alex Ferguson prepares to rest key players for Champions League second leg as Chelsea lie in wait.

    Hardly a fringe player, but Berbatov can expect to start against Schalke [GALLO/GETTY]

    Manchester United are firmly in the driving seat as they prepare for the second leg of the European Champions League semifinal.

    But manager Alex Ferguson's priorities have shifted since the weekend.

    Knowing his side take a comfortable 2-0 aggregate score over German side Schalke 04 as well as the intimidating home advantage at Old Trafford, Ferguson is preparing to rest key players ahead of Wednesday's game.

    Primarily of course Ferguson's main interest is to choose a strong enough side to reach the Champions League final, but after a costly 1-0 loss against Arsenal in the English Premier League that blew the title race wide open, Ferguson's interests lie in preparing for Sunday's potential domestic title decider against rivals Chelsea.

    If United lose their home clash against Chelsea, the London side – and defending champions – would go ahead on goal difference after they continued their revival with victory over Tottenham at the weekend to move within three points of United.

    Fringe players

    Fixtures

    Tuesday May 3

     Barcelona v Real Madrid (agg 2-0)

    Wednesday May 4

     Man Utd v Schalke 04
    (agg 2-0)

    "I will make some changes on Wednesday without question," Ferguson revealed.

    "I will bring Paul Scholes back in, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen."

    Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher may also make a return to first team after completing 45 minutes in a reserve match, Ferguson confirmed.

    "We'll need to do that but I will probably keep my experienced players at the back. We have a big week ahead. Wednesday is a European semifinal second leg and then the game on Sunday.

    "Two massive games, so we will regroup and freshen it up."

    The irony is it will hardly be a second-string side if the side features the Premier League's top scorer Berbatov and evergreen midfielder Scholes, but on paper the side will be weaker.

    Ferguson was confident however that United remain in a strong position in both domestic and European competitions.

    "We're in as good a position as we could ever have wished for from the start of the season," Ferguson said.

    "We're in the semifinal of the European Cup in the second leg, with a two-goal lead, and we go into Chelsea with equal goal difference and a home game."

    Failure to seal the deal against a Schalke side who were so comprehensively outplayed in the first leg would represent an upset of unthinkable proportions, even allowing for the fact that Schalke produced the away result of this year's Champions League when they downed Inter Milan 5-2 in the quarterfinals.

    As if being given a masterclass by United last week wasn't bad enough - when only the goalkeeping heroics of Manuel Neuer prevented a rout - the Germans' confidence also received another mauling at the weekend when they were beaten 4-1 by Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

    Destiny

    Probable teams

    Manchester United

    1-Edwin Van der Sar
    22-John O'Shea
    15-Nemanja Vidic
    5-Rio Ferdinand
    3-Patrice Evra
    8-Anderson
    24-Darren Fletcher
    18-Paul Scholes
    25-Antonio Valencia
    9-Dimitar Berbatov
    7-Michael Owen

    Schalke 04

    1-Manuel Neuer
    2-Atsuto Uchida
    21-Christoph Metzelder
    32-Joel Matip
    2-Hans Sarpei
    14-Kyriakos Papadopoulos
    18-Jose Manuel Jurado
    11-Alexander Baumjohann
    17-Jefferson Farfan
    7-Raul
    9-Edu

    United defender Patrice Evra did not downplay the seriousness of the week ahead.

    "Our destiny is still in our own hands,'' he said.

    "We have two massive games coming up, against Schalke and Chelsea. We
    must focus on recovering for the Schalke game but we also know if we want to
    win the title we have to beat Chelsea. If we don't beat them we are going to
    be in trouble. We don't want to be in trouble.

    "But I have to say, I am not worried. Against Arsenal, we did not do the
    things we normally do. Hopefully it was an accident because we have five
    games left. Every one is like a final. We need to win them all.''

    United will only have five games to play this month if they finish
    the job against Schalke to reach a third Champions League final in four
    years.

    Barcelona or Real Madrid awaits in the May 28 final at London's Wembley Stadium.

    For Schalke however, the reality is they will need to become a different side from the one that barely put up a fight at home last week.

    "We must be much more compact and aggressive than we were in the first game," defender Christoph Metzelder said.

    "In playing terms, we are not as strong in comparison with Manchester United and therefore we must surpass ourselves in other aspects. If we are going to pull off a miracle, we must do a hell of a job." 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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