Semi-final, first leg; Kick-off: 19:45 (BST)
Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick has described his team’s semi-final against Manchester United as the biggest game of his, and many of his players’ careers.
The German side have surprised many by reaching this stage, though victories over Valencia and holders Inter in the knockout stages are a testament to their current form and their capacity to cause an upset.
“Nothing will be decided tomorrow,” admitted Rangnick. “We know Manchester are much better organised than Inter, so it will not be as easy for us to score. We have to try to be compact as well. A close result will leave everything open for the return leg in Manchester.
“We know United have lots of attacking players at their disposal, especially on the wings; there will be at least five attacking players in their lineup, six if you count [Patrice] Evra. We have to find a good balance between defence and attack.
Rangnick hopes that the novel prospect of reaching a major European final, may inspire his largely unsung group of players.
“Who knows how many of these players will play in a match like this in the coming years? The same goes for me,” he admitted. “This is my biggest game so far judging by the attention it is getting in general and from the media. Surely, over the course of these two games, Manchester have more to lose than us. We have to stay focused but also enjoy this.
“Sir Alex Ferguson has won more games and titles at this level, but United will have a very experienced team, much as Inter did. Our team is a bit younger and hopefully hungrier to make up for their lack of experience. Our passion and discipline has helped us against Inter and I hope it will do so again against United.”
For Schalke, Benedikt Howedes is struggling to be fit after sitting out much of Monday training with a stomach strain, though Rangnick is hopeful Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Peer Kluge will be fit. Mario Gavranovic; has missed recent games while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Christoph Moritz and Christian Pander are long-term absentees.
Team will not give in
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson highlighted his squad’s current freshness as well as their experience of this stage of the competition, but admitted he was always wary with the final just one step away.
“Wayne Rooney’s form has been fantastic these last two months but the most important thing for us is the freshness has come into the team in the last few weeks with players coming back like [Antonio] Valencia, [Rio] Ferdinand, Anderson and Park Ji-Sung,” he said.
“In terms of the quality of the team, you saw it on Saturday again (in the 1-0 win over Everton) that this is a team that will not give in, there is absolutely no chance this team will ever give in and that’s a great quality.
“I think the present group have enough experience now in Europe, it is where we should be. The expectation from my point of view has always been high as regards the European scene, because you do get envious of other clubs’ record in Europe and we are trying to come to parity with that – in other words, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Liverpool, and we need to progress quickly to get to that level again.
“You always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition. We’ve had this situation over the years. [When] we played Barcelona away from home in the first leg [in 2008] and got the result we wanted, in the second leg the last two minutes were absolute agony. Semi-finals are never easy.
Despite his side being heavily favoured to reach next month’s Wembley final, Ferguson is taking nothing for granted against Schalke.
“[On seeing Schalke against Inter] The first thing is they never looked like losing the game, and that is quite a credit to them given the experience of Inter,” he continued. “There was never any stage where I thought they were going to lose that match, most of the time they were in complete control and even in the good moments Inter had they dealt with it easily. It was a good impression.”
United have confirmed that striker Dimitar Berbatov will not feature on Tuesday having failed to recover from a groin problem. Midfielders Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves are also missing, along with Bébé and reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, prompting a call-up for Sam Johnstone, 18, as third-choice keeper.