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SOCCER

Manchester United wins, will face Barcelona in Champions League final

With a 4-1 victory over Schalke '04, the English Premier League team moves on to a May 28 match at Wembley Stadium in London.

May 04, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Manchester United's Anderson, left center, scores past Schalke 04 goalkeeper Manuel Neuer during a Champions League match on Wednesday.
Manchester United's Anderson, left center, scores past Schalke… (Patrik Stollarz / Getty…)

They packed the Old Trafford stands in Manchester, England on Wednesday night, all there to watch the penultimate act of the 2011 European Champions League.

There were about 4,000 Germans, bravely showing the Schalke '04 flag but knowing full well that they were supporting a hopelessly lost cause.

There were about 70,000 Britons, all of them dyed-in-the-red-wool Manchester United fans, there to cheer their team to a 4-1 victory on the night and a 6-1 aggregate romp in the semifinal series.

And there was at least one Spaniard, a certain "Pep" Guardiola, there to learn the uncomfortable lesson that Manchester United's second-string team was good enough to tear apart Schalke with relative ease.

It will be Guardiola's Barcelona that takes on Manchester United in the Champions League final on May 28, just down the motorway at Wembley Stadium in London.

Barcelona will come in with three European titles to its name and, by then, will almost certainly be the 2011 Spanish league champion, its third such crown in a row.

Manchester United will come in with three European titles to its name and, by then, will almost certainly be the 2011 English Premier League champion, assuming it does not stumble against second-place Chelsea on Sunday.

It will be a final pitting the best long-passing team in the game against the best short-passing team. Many will want to see what, if anything, Manchester United learned from its 2-0 loss to Barcelona in the 2009 final in Rome.

So the fact that Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Javier Hernandez were not at all involved in Wednesday night's proceedings, and the fact that Patrice Evra graced the stage for only half an hour, meant that Guardiola did not have the chance to see the real United.

Still, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia and striker Dimitar Berbatov, showed that with only those four and a supporting cast Manchester is still a formidable foe.

First-half goals by Valencia and Darron Gibson and two second-half tap-in goals four minutes apart by Brazilian midfielder Anderson were more than enough to shred Schalke, which did manage a well-taken goal from Jose Manuel Jurado.

Manchester United Coach Alex Ferguson said that even though his team came into the match with a 2-0 lead from the first leg, he still debated which players to put on the field for what should have been — and indeed turned out to be — the formality of the second game.

"I didn't sleep last night thinking about it," he said. "I woke up four times, picking different teams. A semifinal is such an important game it does put doubt in your mind about whether you are doing the right thing, but I feel vindicated now."

Schalke, which ousted 2010 champion Inter Milan in the quarterfinals, was outclassed in the semifinals and was never really in the hunt in either game.

"You have to say Manchester United were too good for us, we were hitting our limits," admitted Schalke Coach Ralf Rangnick.

Now it will be Barcelona that stands between Manchester United and its first Champions League title since 2008.

"Their performances are there for everyone to see, but we've done our job well, Wembley is a neutral ground, and we'll be well prepared," Ferguson said.

"I don't think we should go there lacking confidence. Their form has been very good, we're playing a fantastic team, but there shouldn't be a sense of terror. We can't be frightened out of our skin. We've got to find a solution to playing against them."

After watching Wednesday's game, Guardiola will be thinking much the same thing.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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