TV Roundtable: Typical United feel

Surprise package Schalke play host to Manchester United as the first leg of the Champions League semifinals kick off Tuesday from Gelsenkirchen (live on FOX Soccer, coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET). The FOX Soccer crew breaks down what to expect, who to watch, and who they think will win one of the biggest games of the European season.

Q. Let’s start with some general thoughts about the game, Warren, and what you guys feel we’re in for.

WARREN BARTON: Well, from a British point of view, I’m very confident in Manchester United. You respect the German mentality and what they have done. But I think United will be very confident over the two legs; they will give Schalke the respect they deserve but I don’t think United will or should fear them.

Q. Let’s talk a little about Schalke, who really are a bit of shock to be here, yes?

NICK WEBSTER: I think Schalke are a really interesting team, especially contrasting their domestic form with their European. Felix Magath is an experienced, wise coach and it was a shock to see them let him go especially after they qualified for the knockout round. But the professor, Ralf Ragnick, comes in and I think he’s done an unbelievable job. I think their performance against Inter opened a lot of eyes – to go to the San Siro and score five goals was pretty impressive. They play a fine counterattacking style of football, and I think they will give United plenty to handle.

WARREN: Well, yeah they have two greats in Raul, who is a living legend, and their `keeper, Manuel Neuer, who has been excellent. But United know what to do to shut Raul down. You know that you cannot let him get behind you and you know that if he gets into the 18-yard-box that he’s clinical, so as long as you keep him out of there – and that’s what Vidic and Ferdinand have to do – I think United can be pretty confident.

NICK: Well Raul’s record throughout the years speaks for itself. He’s the leading scorer in Champions League history and won the Cup three times with Real Madrid. I think Madrid probably thought he was past his sell-by date and with Cristiano Ronaldo coming into the club, I think Raul also probably saw the writing on the wall. But his move to a new country and a new style of football has really rejuvenated him. He’s playing like a teenager: His movement off the ball is so impressive, and he shows that pure enjoyment – it’s just great to see. At Madrid, I think the pressure of being a talisman got to him; here he doesn’t have that, and the move has paid dividends.

KEITH COSTIGAN: Schalke are definitely a good side going forward with Raul and Huntelaar, when he is fit. But I worry about them defensively. I thought against Valencia they were very lucky, because they were weak at the back – Christoph Metzelder is not the defender he once was. Against a United team that likes to go forward, they’re going to have some problems.

Q. Let’s talk about that a little more: Defense has been so critical for United this season. Who are your game changers on Tuesday?

WARREN: I think two people jump right out: Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney. Vidic is a rock, and van der Sar is a rock, and both men are on top of their game. Hernandez and Giggs will back them up with no doubt. Rio gives you that calmness in the back and Rooney is a match winner. If those two click on the night, United have a great chance of winning.

NICK: When you have Rio and Vidic in the back together, they are very difficult to beat. United are not setting the world alight as they were three seasons ago, but what you have is a team that knows how to win. At the end of the day, when we look at the record books, we’re not going to remember how they won, just that they did win. Ferguson realizes he doesn’t have a traditional United team, but they play a traditional United style of football. They also have a couple of strikers coming into form at just the right time. Rooney was a disaster until February, and now he’s finding the net. Hernandez is the buy of the season not just in England but in world football, and I think he has that big game temperament.

KEITH: Rooney’s the key man for me. He has become a superb creator, giving outstanding service to the wide players. He can drop deep and get the ball out quickly, and he’s playing as almost a withdrawn striker. He’s embraced that role, and I think United’s attack has to revolve around him. It helps that he is hitting his best form at just the right time.

Q. Does the possibility of playing at Wembley give United any added motivation?

WARREN: Getting a chance to play the final at Wembley is huge for the country, and I think even fans of other teams would want to have an English team there. We’re very proud and patriotic, and it’s great to have someone like Sir Alex Ferguson and United have a chance to be there. This final is now seen around the world, and United are now a global brand as well. It is potentially the biggest club in England playing in the biggest stadium in England for the whole world to see and I think that’s huge for the country.

KEITH: I think if they make it to Wembley, United definitely fancy their chances. It’s a home game, and they will have massive amounts of support in the city and throughout the country. It’s not the same if you face Barcelona – and I think they will – in say, Portugal or France. It has to be an advantage for United.

NICK: Maybe for the players, but I don’t think it does for Ferguson, no. From an historic point, this is where they won the European Cup in 1968, and that does hold special significance for them as a club.

Q. Any final thoughts, guys?

NICK: United have this look about them that they don’t know how to lose. I cannot see anything other than a United victory over the two legs, honestly.

KEITH: This is not the best United we’ve ever seen, but they are very efficient. Ferguson got it right Saturday when he said they are a typical United team in that while they leave everything late, they get it done. It doesn’t seem to matter what obstacles they face: they find a way to get it done and get a victory.

WARREN: I think it helps United that the first leg is in Germany. As much as it will be an intense, electric setting, if the second leg were there, and say, the first leg had ended 0-0, it would be twice as bad. United are used to playing in this, of course – they’re used to big games, big stadiums and passionate fans, but I don’t think they will be intimidated. In fact, when I was a player, the worst part of it was going back to the hotel!

Schalke hosts Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal Tuesday, 2 p.m. Eastern on FOX Soccer Channel.