Champions League : Schalke 04 0-2 Manchester United
Make no mistake, this was as accomplished a Champions League semi-final performance you could wish to see as United had Schalke chasing shadows in a comprehensive 2-0 victory.
There's still a second leg to come before the manager and anybody else will be thinking of planning for Wembley but, in truth, only Manuel Neuer's brilliance saved his side from an embarrassing scoreline.
Neuer defied United virtually single-handedly before two quickfire goals - by Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney - ensured justice was done. Rooney was the provider for Giggs' opener and then found the net himself after cunning play by strike partner Javier Hernandez.
Sir Alex Ferguson opted for a 4-4-2 formation with in-form Hernandez proving impossible to leave out. Fabio started at right-back with Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Giggs and Ji-sung Park forming the midfield quartet.
In a breathless opening period, both sides carved out chances with Edwin van der Sar worked by Alexander Baumjohann and Edu while Neuer showed his class at the other end. Rooney drifted inside to force a diving stop out of the Schalke skipper, who then beat out a Park drive. Some fine work by Fabio and Valencia led to Hernandez stretching to test Neuer again. Hernandez was then in a one-on-one with the keeper in the 14th minute when Park's astute through ball found him just onside but the Mexican couldn't squeeze his finish under Germany's number one.
Hernandez remained the man likeliest to open the scoring as he rippled the side-netting with a left-footed effort and then made the wrong decision in trying to return a pass to Rooney rather than going for goal himself. Chicharito seemed to be finding space easily and, when he was beautifully picked out by Valencia, it was a surprise his snap-shot flashed across goal rather than on target from an angle.
Giggs almost broke the deadlock when getting his head to Nemanja Vidic's cross, only for the outstanding Neuer to scoop the ball away with his right hand.
Christoph Metzelder took a booking for the team with a cynical foul on Rooney to stop the England international releasing Hernandez again as the one-way traffic on the Schalke goal continued. There was another major scare for the hosts when Hernandez nipped in to again force a fine stop out of Neuer and Park's effort on the rebound was blocked by Atsuto Uchida.
Moments later, Fabio fired over the top with his left foot from Park's downward header as United tried to take a richly-deserved lead. Instead, Neuer blocked crucially again to thwart Giggs in yet another one-on-one situation by standing tall to frustrate the Welshman with his seventh save of the half as the teams went in all-square at the break.
It took one minute and 13 seconds of the second half to test Neuer again as Carrick headed a Giggs free-kick goalwards before Giggs' dreadful right-footed finish ruined the calm dummy that sat two defenders on the deck.
Neuer was finally beaten with 51 minutes on the clock but, frustratingly, Hernandez was marginally offside when lashing home a superb finish. The Miners mustered an attempt of their own when Juan Manuel Jurado sliced a volley off target following Jefferson Farfan's lightning run down the right and Edu's powerful shot forced a save out of van der Sar.
But the Reds were merely biding their time before conjuring up a way of beating Neuer. Patrice Evra fed Rooney and the striker's brilliant disguised pass allowed Giggs to race through unchallenged to slip home an assured left-footed finish.
Scenting blood, United poured forward and, after Giggs volleyed a well-placed Valencia cross wide, it was 2-0 within a couple of minutes. Valencia touched the ball towards Hernandez and the Mexican helped it on intelligently to Rooney, who gleefully swept past the exposed Neuer.
Sir Alex took the opportunity to give Hernandez and Park a breather ahead of the weekend clash with Arsenal as Paul Scholes and Anderson came on with 17 minutes left.
Schalke tried in vain to reduce the deficit with Farfan sending a free-kick wide and substitute Sergio Escudero's excellent attempt forcing van der Sar into evasive action. The hosts, who almost fell further behind late on when Evra shot just wide after linking up with substitute Nani, were simply no match for the Reds on the night. Schalke require a Miner miracle in the second leg at Old Trafford next Wednesday.
Edwin van der Sar
Making a 13th record-equalling Champions League semi-final appearance, the Dutchman was a spectator for the most part as United’s attackers ran riot and Edwin’s defenders held firm throughout. Made his best stop late on from substitute Sergio Escudero.
Huge night for the youngster who got the nod ahead of his brother at right-back and he didn’t disappoint. His enthusiasm got the better of him early on with the concession of some cheap free-kicks, but he looked solid defensively thereafter and twice went close to scoring at the other end. Picked up a yellow card for fouling Jurado.
A typically solid, calm display from the England international who was rarely troubled by Raul and co. Won a couple of towering headers inside his own box as he was always alert to the danger.
Another excellent performance from the captain who made some vital interceptions early on and never looked troubled when Schalke launched a rare attack. Outstanding as ever.
Like Fabio on the other flank, Patrice got forward well to support in attack and kept Farfan pretty quiet for the most part. Almost scored a rare goal in the closing stages when shooting just wide after linking well with Nani.
Always a threat on the right wing as he ran Sarpei ragged. As well as supplying some typically inviting crosses, he played some lovely little passes into the front men as United lay siege to the Schalke goal. Involved in the build-up to the second goal and constantly had the home defence worried.
Calm and controlled performance from Carrick who was always available to help out in defence and get forward to add weight to the attack. His passing – long and short – was as assured as ever. Saw a header tipped over by the outstanding Neuer early in the second period. Rarely wasted a ball all night.
Revelled in his position alongside Carrick and made the most of the licence he was given to get forward but should have done better when clean through late in the first period and then curled an effort wide early in the second. Finally, got a chance on his favoured left foot that he despatched past Neuer as he rolled back the years, showing all his experience.
Like all of United’s attackers Ji’s movement, slick passing and work rate caused Schalke’s defence endless problems. Never stopped running before getting a breather when withdrawn after the second goal.
Picked up where he left off in the last round against Chelsea with another top-notch display. Looked lively from the start and popped up all over the pitch, spraying passing around. Linked up brilliantly with Hernandez throughout and, of course, made one goal with a superb pass and scored the other with a calm finish.
United’s in-form goalscorer could have had a hat-trick in the opening half hour but for Neuer. And when he did find the net early in the second period, the offside flag was up. Showed there's far more than goals to his game by teeing up Rooney but will wonder how on earth he didn't get on the scoresheet himself.
Anderson (for Hernandez, 73)
Brought yet more energy to United's midfield. Showed some nice touches and helped keep things solid.
Scholes (for Park, 73)
Currently serving a domestic suspension, he was clearly delighted to be back out on the pitch as he displayed his usual repertoire of long-range passing. Dictated the proceedings in acres of space late on as he helped United keep possession.
Nani (for Rooney, 83)
Looked full of confidence as he took on a more attacking role than usual and was always an outlet for his midfielders. Very hard to knock off the ball.