Champions league semi-finals: The games, the tatics, the players
SCHALKE v MANCHESTER UNITED: Tuesday 7.45: Given Schalke's results and performances in the competition so far, it is surprising that so many close to Manchester United seem to have one eye on which of Barcelona or Real Madrid they would like to play in the final.
The German side's remarkable 5-2 victory in the San Siro against Inter in the last eight broke with their habit of building on workmanlike away performances with home victories.
If Alex Ferguson's side can get an away goal in Gelsenkirchen then their form at Old Trafford should see them through. If Schalke can maintain their 100 per cent home record in this season's competition then United could be in for a surprise.
Ralf Ragnick replaced Felix Magath between the last 16 and the quarter-finals but Schalke's tactics remain largely unchanged. Raul and the Brazilian Edu form a potent strike force but it is the strength of Schalke's midfield which has been the key to their success. The rising Greek star, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, was deployed in midfield against Inter and performed heroics in neutralising the threat of Wesley Sneijder. It would be no surprise if Rangnick attempted to repeat the trick to deal with Wayne Rooney.
Manchester United tactics
With Dimitar Berbatov seemingly persona non grata when the really big games come along, Ferguson will again rely on Rooney and Javier Hernandez (pictured) to score the goals United need. Like Schalke, however, it is United's strength in midfield and defence which has been key to their progress. Ji-sung Park has been immense, while Michael Carrick's improvement in recent weeks has compensated for the continued absence of Darren Fletcher. Behind them, the form of Rio Ferdinand since returning from injury has been a big boost for Ferguson.
Schalke key moment
Having secured a 1-1 draw in the Mestalla, Schalke fell a goal behind in the second leg of their last 16 tie against Valencia. Lesser teams might have crumbled but two goals in a 12-minute period either side of half-time from Jefferson Farfan and Champions League debutant Mario Gavranovic swung the tie back in the German side's favour and they haven't looked back since.
Manchester United key moment
Having thrown away a lead in the league fixture at Stamford Bridge four weeks previously, United travelled to Chelsea for the quarter-final needing some sort of result to bring back to Old Trafford. Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs combined to set up Wayne Rooney's first-half goal but the Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco's decision not to award a penalty for Patrice Evra's challenge on Ramires in the dying minutes was equally important.
Schalke key player
There are other candidates of course -- and Schalke as much as any team left in the competition embody the collective over the individual -- but Raul's performances throughout the tournament have been astonishing. A fitting finale to the season the 33-year-old has had would be for him to score the winner in the final against Madrid next month. You wouldn't bet against it.
Manchester United key player
While many of the big names left in the tournament are struggling after a long season, Wayne Rooney seems to be feeling the benefits of being a passenger for much of the campaign. Rooney provides a constant goal threat as well as the ability to create chances for others and Schalke will hope to force him to go deeper and deeper in search of possession.
REAL MADRID v BARCELONA
On the evidence of the first two of the four meetings in quick succession between Spain's biggest clubs, they may need to come up with a more appropriate name than El Clasico.
Wednesday's final of the Copa del Rey will be the blueprint for how Jose Mourinho will envisage progression to a second successive Champions League final. Madrid were outplayed for large portions of the game but thanks to resolute defending, not to mention some tackling which stretched the boundaries of legality, they emerged victorious.
The suspension of Ricardo Carvalho from the first leg in the Bernabeu will give Barcelona reasons to be optimistic that they can bring an advantage back the Nou Camp where they beat Madrid 5-0 earlier this season.
Real Madrid tactics
As always, solidity is the key to any Jose Mourinho side and Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira are crucial figures sitting in front of the back four and providing the protection which allows an advanced midfield trio to support the lone striker. Whether at left-back or further advanced, Marcelo could be a crucial figure as he looks to expose Barcelona's lack of width.
Barcelona's approach is not likely to change, regardless of opponents or the personnel available to Pep Guardiola, but it would not be too much of a surprise if Javier Mascherano was included alongside Sergio Busquets and Xavi in a midfield three which would offer protection to their back four. In this event, Andres Iniesta would join Lionel Messi and David Villa in Barca's front three.
Real Madrid key moment
Having failed to reach the last eight of the Champions League since 2004, Real Madrid faced Lyon in the last 16 -- the side that eliminated them at the same stage last season -- attempting to overcome a psychological burden as much as anything else. Following a 1-1 first-leg draw in France, Karim Benzema's strike to put Madrid 2-0 ahead in the Bernabeu banished any nagging thoughts that this year could go the same way as the previous six.
Barcelona key moment
For all their mesmeric football, Barcelona would have exited this tournament if Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner was anything like the player he likes to think he is. With three minutes left on the clock, an away goal would have sent Arsenal through to the quarter-final. Jack Wilshere played in Bendtner but, under pressure from Mascherano, the Dane fluffed the chance.
Real Madrid key player
For all that Mourinho's side relies on defensive solidity, Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) remains the most crucial component of his side. The first leg of the quarter-final against Tottenham showed exactly what influence the former Manchester United man has on the side. Though he contributed little to overall play, he managed 10 shots on goal in his 87 minutes on the pitch. With 43 goals in all competitions this season, he is clearly the man Barcelona need to stop.
Barcelona key player
While Lionel Messi is the pulsating beat of this Barcelona side, Guardiola needs David Villa to produce a big performance. The striker has looked increasingly jaded as the season has progressed -- although he scored his first goal since February against Osasuna last night. Villa joined Barcelona last summer to compete at this level and, exhausted or not, now is when he needs to deliver.
Sunday Indo Sport