So once again the Germans have ruined a clean sweep of predictions. Well I’ll get them and their little dog too. Raul and his Schalke team mates dumped Internazionale out with an aggregate score of 7-3 which just feels so old school. So before we move on to the World Series Of FootballTM lets have a look at their chances against Manchester United:
Schalke 04 vs. Manchester United: Schalke have already dumped Valencia and Inter out of the competition and Manchester United can hardly afford to take them likely, especially given their relatively poor record against German clubs. In the knock-out stages they’ve suffered against Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich during Ferguson’s reign.
On the other hand, this is a United side that is built to deal with these European encounters. Firstly there is vast experience of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes etc. Even Wayne Rooney has seven seasons worth of wisdom under his belt at 25. That reservoir of “been there, done that” is invaluable at the highest level. The ability to remain calm even when under the cosh as United will no doubt be for at least some portion of the tie will be crucial.
Secondly Ferguson has taken his time to learn how to play in Europe but there is absolutely no chance of Schalke putting seven past this United side who’ve only conceded three goals all campaign, compared to the 19 shipped by Inter.
Finally there is the fact that, with all due respect to Schalke, United have a better team. Jurado, Raul etc are by no means bad players but on paper they are not a match for Ferguson’s men. With the second leg at home, United will feel very confident of a third final in four years.
Prediction: Manchester United to win home and away without really pummelling the Germans.
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Even at their most meaningless the average El Clasico is more important than Armageddon. The fact there will be four in the space of two and a half weeks will have to involve some re-writing of the laws of physics in the Spanish press to allow for the sheer gravity of the situation. Mourinho vs. Guardiola. Messi vs. Ronaldo. Cantera vs. Cartera (Youth versus wallet).
The Golden Boys inflicted one of the most humiliating defeats in Clasico history earlier this season with a 5-0 manita. But if there is one thing that Jose Mourinho does rather well it’s learn from his mistakes. Plus the Portuguese tactician will have two “practise” Clasico’s with which to try out various formations. Furthermore Barcelona miss Eric Abidal and Carlos Puyol. Badly. Without the duo they are far more defensively vulnerable than they were before. Abidal will certainly miss the clash and doubts over Puyol go right up to kick-off.
Yet Madrid have not yet been moulded into a Mourinho side. The process is happening and next season with a few judicious acquisitions La Decima might be much more of a possibility but questions marks remain over how sturdy Madrid will be against Barcelona. The scars from the Nou Camp still hurt. Much will depend on the league and Copa Del Rey games. If Barcelona win both then it will take a super-human managerial effort to instil the required confidence in the Madrid players. However even one victory, preferably in the cup would have Madrid enter the tie on a high.
It will also be fascinating to see what tactics Mourinho uses to counter Guardiola in the two games running up to the Clasico. Even with less than two weeks to go, there are so many unforeseeable variables that predicting this clash is stupid.
Prediction: With that in mind, Barcelona still look ever so slightly more likely to reach the final. Last time this blog predicted a tight, edgy affair, settled by a single goal. So don’t, you know, rely on it.