|photo by dwhartwig||via PhotoRee|
Sir Alex trotted out an alternate side for the Champions League semi-final tonight, electing to keep his ideal first XI on the bench and rest them for the EPL decider against Chelsea taking place in four days' time. From the pre-match shrieks of protest on Twitter you'd have thought Sir Alex's choices today included Pogba, King, Morrison and Keane (Will, that is, not Roy). Instead, the side featured Dimitar Berbatov, the EPL's leading scorer, Paul Scholes, a veteran of two European winning United sides of the past, and Edwin Van Der Sar in between the sticks. It also included whipping boy Darren Gibson, another Twitter-abuse victim, and the oft-maligned Brazilian midfielder, Oliveira Anderson. All in all, not a bad side, but definitely a side that must have caused a certain Josep "Pep" Guardiola to wonder why he had traveled all the way from Barcelona to watch, as well as a side with something to prove.
Which they did on 26 minutes, as Darren Gibson offered a perfectly-weighted through ball to Antonio Valencia, steaming in from the right and not having to break even the smallest bit of stride before he banged it past United's nemesis from the prior match, Manuel Neuer. Gibson may have been awakened from a season-long slumber by a rib-rattling collision with Jefferson Farfan approximately 15 minutes before his pass settled the home crowd's nerves. It was only a mere five minutes later when Gibson hit back at his doubters yet again with a semi-final goal that stunned the home crowd as well as the 'keeper formerly known as the Berlin Wall. Neuer reduced both his transfer price as well as his team's chance of a miracle three goal comeback when he had a bit of a howler, letting Gibson's soft-ish effort slough off his hands and into the net.
Although the visitors clawed one back a short while later, the semi-final became a bit of a walk in the park in the game's second half, when United added two more goals to its total, bringing the score to 4-1 on the night and a jaw-dropping 6-1 on aggregate. The second half tallies were added by the evening's other midfield maestro, Anderson, who doubled his career United scoring total with a Champions League brace. Displaying the type of sharp finishing which has often been lacking on his first score, the Brazilian needed only a tap in to double his haul. It capped off a fine evening for the dreadlocked one, who spit and samba'd his way into the fans' hearts tonight at Old Trafford.
Because it was played in a more wide open style than the Champions League is used to seeing, it was a marvelous European night for the home side, which put the voodoo to the dreaded German hoodoo once and for all. Despite starting a virtual reserve side, United had much too much class for Schalke, which ultimately looked more like the mid-table side they have been this year than the team which dismantled the holders in the prior round.
The only thing lacking on the evening was the long-promised goal from Michael Owen, although he didn't miss by much when he came on to wind down the game. Even if Owen had scored, however, I'm not sure the fifth goal on the evening would have counted as the important one United fans know he's poised to score. Maybe's he's saving it for Barcelona and Wem-ber-ly.....?
This is an ebullient farlieonfootie for Cinco de Mayo, May 5th.