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.”