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A seemingly meaningless tie takes place at Old Trafford on Wednesday when Manchester United host Schalke 04 in the second leg of the Champions League semi final, while already holding a commanding 2-0 lead in aggregate.
Last week, United ran out comfortable winners in Germany when Schalke were bombarded from all angles. It was only the heroics of out-bound keeper Manuel Neuer that kept the German side within a respectable scoreline. Neuer, who is touted to move to Bayern Munich in the summer, pulled off a string of high quality saves in the first half, without which Schalke would have cringed with shame.
Many expected a tough evening for the English side after Schalke made mince meat of holders Inter Milan in the quarter finals. Having progressed with an aggregate scoreline of 7-3, confidence was high, as was expectations. However, United started the game on the front foot and never looked back. Surprisingly, the first half ended goalless and United felt the threat of seeing their efforts count for nothing. However, a two minute spell in the second half saw two goals, from veteran Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, as United planted a foot in the final.
However, the second leg may not be a dead-rubber after all. With an important domestic against Chelsea on Sunday, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has taken the risk of resting some of his key players including forward duo of Rooney and Javier Hernandez. Couple that with key returns for Schalke - defender Benedikt Howedes and forward Klass-Jan Huntelaar - and the German side can dare to hope. No side has ever managed to turn a two goal home deficit in the first leg to an aggregate victory, but a nothing-to-lose mind-frame could be what could hurt United.
United should also guard themselves against complacency, especially given that they are unbeaten at Old Trafford in all competitions this season. Add to the mixture the Raul factor and we could see an unlikely comeback from the Germans.
Team News -
Manchester United are set to rest Rooney and Hernandez, and Dimitar Berbatov could pair up front with Michael Owen. Fabio will also play no part in the tie after suffering a knock against Arsenal at the weekend, but Darren Fletcher has recovered from a virus and could make his return after an absence of two months.
Schalke will hope Benedikt Howedes and Klass-Jan Huntelaar can return from their injuries and start the tie. The German side weren't helped by a two-hour delay due to Visa issues either.
United are a top side and though they have rested some key players, they are unlikely to let go off a two goal lead. Expect another 2-0 win for the home side.