Berbatov misses Schalke semi

The Bulgarian missed Saturday’s Premier League win over Everton
with a slight groin strain. And whilst Sir Alex Ferguson claimed
after the 1-0 triumph that he had no fitness concerns ahead of the
first-leg encounter at the Veltins-Arena, Berbatov did not check in
with the rest of his team-mates at Manchester Airport on Monday
morning. Although the former Tottenham man had been unlikely to
start anyway, his absence is a blow as it denies Ferguson a useful
attacking weapon on the bench should the match not go as planned.
He does have the in-form Javier Hernandez, who bagged his 19th goal
of the season at the weekend, and Wayne Rooney, who will not
remember his last trip to Gelsenkirchen with any fondness as he was
sent off during England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to
Portugal in 2006. Although one of their most famous nights came
against German opposition in 1999, United have not beaten a
Bundesliga side in a two-legged encounter since the European Cup
was revamped into the Champions League in 1992. Bayern Munich put
paid to their hopes at the quarter-final stage last year and 1997
and 2002 brought semi-final despair at the hands of Borussia
Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. United are overwhelming
favourites to book a blockbuster Wembley confrontation with either
Real Madrid or Barcelona on May 28. A shadow Schalke side lost on
home soil to Kaiserslautern at the weekend to strengthen claims Sir
Alex Ferguson’s men will make it through with something to spare.
Defender John O’Shea refuses to be drawn into that kind of
thinking, but the Irishman feels it is time United flexed their
muscle. “We have to make sure we show them our history, why we have
got to finals, why we have won them, why we have been in this
situation many times before,” he said. “We have to impose ourselves
whilst understanding the threats they have, which we will have to
cope with.” If United have been something of an enigma this term,
battling to within seven points of a record 19th title despite
rarely hitting the heights of previous seasons, Schalke’s form is
even more puzzling. Firmly entrenched in mid-table after a
disappointing Bundesliga campaign, Schalke have reserved all their
best performances for Europe. They are unbeaten since losing to
Lyon in their opening group game and after dismissing a Valencia
outfit that gave United two tough matches earlier this season,
Schalke then slammed seven goals past holders Inter Milan at the
quarter-final stage, with veteran Spain striker Raul finding the
net in both legs. “I wouldn’t say we are pleased with the draw,”
said O’Shea. “Schalke have reached a Champions League semi-final.
They have got to be a good team. “We are favourites which adds a
bit of pressure, but any side who can score so many goals against
Inter Milan has to have something about them.” O’Shea also knows
Schalke’s fanatical supporters tend to generate a hostile
atmosphere, although after squeezing past Marseille in the last 16
after a goalless first encounter, he is not convinced United’s
hopes of overall success hinge on them grabbing an away goal. “We
have to use our experience to quieten their crowd down,” he said.
“An away goal is always nice but it is not the be all and end all.
“We know if we are in sight when we come back to Old Trafford, we
will have a great chance.”