1. We’re there. Third European Cup final in four years. When you consider that before 1999, we had only played in one European Cup final in our club’s entire history, this really is an incredible achievement. Congratulations to the lads.
2. That said, today doesn’t feel like the morning after the victory over Barcelona in 2008 and Arsenal in 2009. The nerves before those games were massive and the jubilation that followed was immense. Maybe that’s because we were very confident of progressing after the 2-0 victory in the first leg or maybe because Schalke doesn’t evoke the same emotions as Barcelona or Arsenal. It is a strange feeling today, just like it was whilst watching the majority of the game yesterday, to know that we’ll be at Wembley again in a few weeks time.
3. That said, ahead of kick-off I was feeling a bit nervous. You always have to trust the manager but there was the feeling he had taken a big gamble in order to keep us fresh for the Chelsea game. It was a gamble I supported as winning the 19th title has to take priority as far as I’m concerned, but I wondered whether we needed both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand rested. It felt as though finally we had a big game that we could be relaxed about and enjoy but we had that composure taken away when the team was announced, with 90 minutes of nerves to endure.
3. Turns out, it was a big fuss over nothing. Raul may have scored more games in the Champions League than any other player ever, but Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling should be proud of the way they played. That’s not to say Schalke were throwing everything at them but the nerves easily could have got the better of our young defenders, yet they managed to stay clam and get the job done. The confidence they must have right now will be amazing and I’m very pleased for them both.
4. When considering the things you never thought you’d say at the football, “Anderson is on a hattrick!” probably ranks highly. In the first half he had a shot from just outside the box and, like usually, he scuffed it and it was no threat. For all the strengths he has and possible potential, shooting just doesn’t seem to be something he ever gets right. His first goal came after a great run from Nani. Ando’s first shot was blocked but he got up, turned, and finished well. Neuer will probably think he should have done better but full credit to Anderson for moving so quickly. His second goal followed some lovely passing from Antonio Valencia and Dimitar Berbatov, with the Bulgarian timing his run perfectly to collect the ball perfectly, before putting it on a plate for Anderson. Well done lad.
5. Whilst Valencia’s crossing has yet reached the standards of last season, I can’t get enough of his runs down the wing and his strength to block off opponents. When people challenge him for the ball they seem to just bounce off him. Delighted for him to score the opening goal and marks what has been a successful come back to an injury which could have put him out for the season, or worse.
6. For all the criticism that Darron Gibson gets, credit where it’s due, the lad had a good game. Early in the first half he made a few tackles, beat a few players, passed to players in red, but then looked to have his game cut short after going down. The reaction of the players suggested that he had really hurt himself and the stretcher coming on seemed to confirm that. But he dragged himself off, trotted off the pitch, and was ready to come back on. He didn’t need the goal for people to say he had a good game, but that was a nice added bonus, as Neuer couldn’t get to grips with Gibson’s shot. It was Valencia who set up and he hit the ball well. All you can ask is that players hit the target because you never know what will come of it, so it was nice of the German number 1 to help us out.
7. After letting the team and fans down with his moment of madness at Wembley a few weeks ago, it was good to see Paul Scholes put in a decent shift. Some of his passing is incredible. There were a couple of occasions where he smacked the ball 40 yards in to the path of a charging winger which left me with my jaw wide open. How does he do it? How many other players are there in the world who could pick and pass and execute it the way he does? A touch of class and possible shout for the starting line-up against Barcelona.
8. Whilst I don’t see Pep Guardiola as the type to get scared, particularly when considering the quality of his own side, I do imagine he is a little apprehensive to see what our best team can do in Europe after watching our second string win a European Cup semi-final so easily. The manager has faith in his players and I was delighted to see them repay that last night. Great performances, great result.
Wembley here we come!
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