By Matt Dodd.
1) Strength in depth
It truly is quite something when a team is able to rest nine players for a Champions League semi-final second leg, and still stroll to an impressive victory. Virtually a second-string Manchester United side eased to a 4-1 win over Schalke, and did it in third gear at most. Led by the suitably very versatile John O’Shea, the likes of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Darren Gibson proved to Sir Alex Ferguson that they can be called on when necessary, relied on for high-profile fixtures and suggests they are not far from breaking into the first team. United’s B-team had eradicated the pressure off United’s A-team who will be fresh for Chelsea on Sunday and will be casting an eye on May 28th on the calendar.
2) Ando can score
You do question the lack of goals from Anderson following given the amount of money paid for the ‘attacking midfielder’ from Porto in 2007. Before the game, the Brazilian had only scored two goals for the club in over 100 appearances. He managed to double his tally last night with two neat finishes which makes you wonder why he can’t do that more often. Anderson thrived on the absence of goal-scoring masters such as Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, and managed to find himself in deadly positions to snatch a goal. Although he has faced criticism for his work-rate and sloppy passing, perhaps now is the time for him to push on from this performance, live up to his song and become Man United’s all-round ‘midfield magician’.
3) He’s human after all
Largely tipped as the best goalkeeper in the world right now, Manuel Neuer proved that he is not absolutely infallible. After an outstanding performance in Germany in the first-leg last week, which prevented United from humiliating Schalke with a six or seven goal lead, Neuer eventually showed he is prone to the odd mistake every now and then. When Darren Gibson’s shot was hit with fierce power but no accuracy, everyone inside Old Trafford would have expected Germany’s No1 to make an easy save. Instead, he spilled the ball which cannoned of the post and in. Perhaps Fergie will not be too jealous of Bayern Munich’s capture of Neuer.
4) Fletcher’s timely return?
No one will forget Darren Fletcher’s wrongly given red card in the latter stages of United’s second-leg semi-final triumph over Arsenal two years ago. The Scot, who was in terrific form at the time, was harshly forced to miss out on the Champions League final against Barcelona, and could have been the man to make all the difference. Coming on as a substitute for Paul Scholes with just 17 minutes to go, Fletch didn’t have much time to impress, but certainly looked comfortable on the ball. If he can force his way into the side for the last few games of the Premier League season, perhaps Fletcher and give Sir Alex food for thought about his involvement for the final – and that would be a sensational return.
5) Revenge can be made at Wembley
Pep Guardiola will have not learned much from watching United’s second-string, but Spaniard would have been impressed with the side’s display and must be wondering how much better the first team will be. I’m sure Sir Alex will be watching the DVD of the 2009 final, and calculating how United can break down this Barcelona team. Fergie will probably be watching it through gritted teeth, being reminded of how Barca outplayed his United side by passing them off the pitch. But, how often does Fergie make the same mistake twice?
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