The Champions League has thrown up just about every kind of challenge for Sir Alex Ferguson over the last 18 years but never in a semi-final has he come up against a team quite like the dreadful Schalke, who played last night with about as much finesse as a bratwurst in a bun.
Make no mistake, Manchester United were superb in picking off their German opposition with two goals in quick succession just before the 70-minute mark. They swaggered around the Veltins-Arena as if they were the home team. And with the exception of Schalke's indefatigable goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, there were times when it felt like a training exercise.
When Wayne Rooney added the second of United's goals on 69 minutes – after Ryan Giggs had finally broken through – thoughts switched to Sunday's Premier League game against Arsenal. Ferguson's team have found their late-season tempo and it looks ominous for Arsène Wenger's side now.
That it took United 67 minutes to beat Neuer was a source of some disbelief at both ends of the stadium. The visitors dominated the game and in many respects just two goals feels like a poor return given their grip on the game. The second leg at Old Trafford will be a formality on this evidence: United are on their way to a third Champions League final in four years.
For all the poverty of Schalke, this was a great United performance from back to front. Rooney and Javier Hernandez destroyed Schalke's defence with their running. At the back, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic supervised the Schalke attack without the slightest suggestion of unease. United could have scored five more.
Neuer kept Schalke in it for as long as he could, pushing a Michael Carrick header over the bar two minutes into the second half. For a while around the hour, United seemed to lose their way and the previous momentum of their attacks waned. Then, on 67 minutes, they found their way through. Rooney dinked a ball through the defence for Giggs and this time he put the ball through Neuer's legs.
Two minutes later, Valencia played in Hernandez and his cross was turned in by Rooney. This game, this tie, was over and Ferguson changed to a five-man midfield to shore the game up. Even so, his team might have had more goals but on this evidence, two will be more than enough come Wednesday at Old Trafford.
Substitutes: Schalke Kluge (Baumjohann, 53) Escudero (Sarpei, 72), Draxler (Jurado, 82) Unused: Schober (gk), Plestan, Charisteas, Karimi, Man United Scholes (Park, 73), Anderson (Hernandez, 73), Nani (Rooney, 83), Unused: Kuszczak (gk), Smalling, Rafael,Evans.
Booked: Schalke Metzelder, Sarpei. Manchester United Fabio.
Man of the match Rooney. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Schalke 45% Man United 55%.
Attempts on target: Schalke 7 Man United 11.
Referee C V Carballo (Spain) Att 54,000.Reuse content