Manchester United will be looking to secure a Champions League final encounter with Barcelona when they welcome Schalke to Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Holding a 2-0 first-leg lead and with a near faultless home record this season which has seen them remain unbeaten at Old Trafford, United have reason to feel confident of reaching the Wembley final.
However, United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, is taking nothing for granted.
“I hope Manchester United don’t regard it as a formality, I certainly won’t. The work ethic will be very high tomorrow in order for us to qualify,” said Ferguson.
“If you look at the experience of last year where we lost the league [with a vital home defeat by Chelsea] it was after a Wednesday game against Bayern [a 2-1 quarter-final first-leg defeat in Munich].
“The team was very tired against Chelsea in the next game so that has to have a bearing on my team selection – [they are] two massive games but each as important as the other. There will be some changes; hopefully I will have a nucleus of a team that is good enough to still win.
“There seem to be better concentration levels in European games. It is not the regular football – the Premier League is incessant, tribalism almost. You are playing a London team, a Yorkshire team, Liverpool teams and it creates that incredible competitive edge. You go to Europe and there are different ways of playing, different tactics so it possibly brings different concentration from us.”
Wayne Rooney missed training on Tuesday, and with Ferguson eyeing Sunday’s crunch Premier League encounter with Chelsea, the England forward is expected to be rested tonight. Ryan Giggs missed Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal with “a bit of flu” but should be fit, while Dimitar Berbatov and Anders Lindegaard are back in the squad after lay-offs. Darren Fletcher is available after a virus and will play some part in tonight’s game, according to Sir Alex.
Meanwhile, Ralf Rangnick is asking his Schalke players to show they have learned the lessons from a one-sided first-leg defeat.
“We want to show we can play better, that we learned our lesson from last week and then we’ll see what happens,” he said. “If Sir Alex Ferguson does spare players it shows he has belief in his squad. And If we have a chance it is up to us to perform in contrast to the first leg. We need to take a different approach, learn from that and apply the lessons tomorrow.
“The first ten to 15 minutes, Manchester United will try to score. I think we have to be well organised during this period and then we have to take our chances when we get them, even if there are just two minutes left. You only have to think of Man United in the Champions League final [against Bayern] when they came back to win 2-1.
“The first leg we competed for the first 15 minutes then we gave away too many clear chances. We are looking to change that. When we played in Milan against Inter they didn’t give us much hope either. Part of the hope comes from the development the team has shown over recent weeks – I hope they can show what they can do tomorrow.
Benedikt Höwedes has missed Schalke’s last three games with a stomach strain and is due to have a late fitness test along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
“We will not take unnecessary risks,” said Rangnick. “He has to be 100% fit.”