Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Gibson answers Twitter critics with storming performance as Manchester United crush Schalke

Manchester United's Antonio Valencia (left) and Darron Gibson celebrate Valencia's goal during the UEFA Champions League, Semi Final, Second Leg at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Manchester United 4 Schalke 1 (agg 6-1): Manchester United's shadow squad secured a repeat of their 2009 Champions League final with Barcelona, but United boss Sir Alex Ferguson left no-one in any doubt that Sunday's Premier League crunch with Chelsea is the most important task of the week.

First-half goals from Antonio Valencia and Darron Gibson ensured there was no way back for Schalke, who were already two goals down from the first leg, and a late double from Anderson completed a handsome victory.

For Gibson in particular it represented a fitting riposte to the critics who forced him off Twitter last week after spending barely two hours exposed to a demanding public.

And Ferguson got exactly what he wanted too, namely the chance of revenge over Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who was watching from the stands, for that one-sided encounter in Rome.

But crucially, he also kept all his main players fresh for the visit of Carlo Ancelotti's side, who will seize top spot with two games left if they win.

Eight changes from the weekend defeat at Arsenal was not so much a calculated gamble as a starting line-up born out of necessity from a manager who simply could not afford to risk injury.

As a result, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand found themselves in the unusual position of not being required at all for a semi-final decider in club football's biggest competition, while four more key men started on the bench.

Ferguson must have factored into his thinking that the Germans simply could not be as bad as they were on home soil eight days ago.

They were certainly more solid in the opening stages, as was Gibson's stomach as he took an accidental kick from Jefferson Farfan.

United had an early chance to settle the tie when Dimitar Berbatov wriggled into space with some deft skill by the dead ball line, only to allow Manuel Neuer to intercept his cross as Antonio Valencia waited for a tap-in.

Chris Smalling was similarly frustrated the next time Berbatov found himself with a crossing opportunity.

The nervousness soon disappeared though as Anderson quickly switched a stray pass into Gibson's path.

He picked out Valencia and, unlike last week, United did not need 11 chances before finding the net as the Ecuadorian sent his precise effort through Neuer's legs.

Ferguson celebrated with the gusto of a man who felt the tie was over, his total confidence in a squad so many have doubted vindicated once more.

Within five minutes United had their second. The same three players were involved again too as Anderson used his strength to provide Valencia with a return pass.

He rolled the ball into Gibson's path, although the Irishman would be the first to admit he benefited from a huge slice of good fortune as Neuer inexplicably fumbled, proving he is not perfect after all given last week's heroics.

It was simply unthinkable that United might lose a four-goal advantage, but Jose Jurado gave them something to ponder almost immediately when he profited from back-to-back errors by Smalling and Rafael.

To follow the burst of goals, three yellow cards were dished out with even greater speed, condemning United's entire central midfield trio to walk a disciplinary tightrope for the remainder of the game.

The most vulnerable of the three was obviously Paul Scholes, who collected his caution for failing to retreat at a free-kick rather than one of his trademark wild tackles.

But tonight there was never any danger of the 36-year-old overstepping the mark.

Gibson had already made a positive impact, as had Anderson. The Brazilian is still bedevilled by inconsistent performances, but this was a good one.

He even managed to do something he has never managed during his entire time at United, score twice in a game.

His first was due to his persistence, firing home with a shot on the turn after he had been crowded out of his first attempt to finish Nani's low cross.

The second was a tap-in thanks to Berbatov's unselfish square ball.

With Darren Fletcher returning after two months out and no-one suspended for the final, everything had gone right for Ferguson and his team.

But the true test this week will come from another team in blue, desperate to retain their title and thirsting for revenge at being eliminated from this very competition at the quarter-final stage.

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