Talking tactics ahead of the Schalke game

raul

It is fascinating that, despite mauling current Champions Inter Milan, Schalke 04 are being somewhat undervalued and dismissed as they prepare to take on Manchester United. Indeed, the Red Devils are the favourites heading into the first leg but it would very naïve to take their German opponents lightly.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already stressed the difficulties that may arise from facing Schalke, and has warned his team that there simply won’t be any room for complacency. But perhaps any confidence in a victory is justified. In the Bundesliga, United’s opponents are floundering in mid-table obscurity with nothing but Europe to play for. They have won 11 out of their 31 league games but perhaps less should be read into that than the following statistic – Schalke are undefeated in their last 9 games in Europe.

Manchester United

Without Dimitar Berbatov, United will be without a potent attacking threat – on the bench. United’s starting line up in Europe always represents something of an enigma – then again, Manchester United have never been familiar with the concept of predictability. What is expected, however, is that United will line up in their default 4-2-3-1 formation we so often see in Europe.

Against Chelsea in the last eight, Michael Carrick played an inspired 180 minutes alongside the equally-effective Ryan Giggs, although whether they’ll partner each other remains to be seen – certainly, the consensus is split as to who will play in central midfield; whether we might see Anderson, Paul Scholes or even Darron Gibson participate is unclear as of yet. What is clear, however, is that United are the definite ‘box of chocolates’ side.

Possession will be United’s main focus and that’s where Carrick comes into play – you would expect Schalke to attempt to try press their visitors high and hit them on the break. If Schalke do manage to have a spell of prolonged possession, then United will do the same, but as we know, the counter-attack is a key asset to the Red Devils’ game.

Wayne Rooney is likely to play deep again; so far, he’s been a revelation in an almost-trequartista position that has seen Javier Hernandez thrive – indeed, most of the Mexican’s 19 goals this campaign have come with Rooney on the pitch. Meanwhile, Valencia and Park may start with Nani missing out. Then again, that is hardly assured. Nani offers greater pace and can drift in and switch effectively with Rooney whenever required.

Schalke

But Ralf Rangnick’s Schalke are also similar in a sense; as to who will play is difficult to guess. Zulquar, from the excellent Bundesliga Fanatic, spoke of how Rangnick’s recent appointment means that the Schalke do not have a set squad, “especially since the recent change of manager has brought a lot of players, previously left out in the cold, back into contention.”

“Schalke have a massive squad, with over 35 players,” says Zulquar. “And while they have maintained a semblance of continuity at the back they have changed around a lot in most other positions.” He expects Schalke to line up in a 4-4-1-1 (line up below) with the deadly campaigner Raul playing just off Edu. Raul is obviously the main threat; his record in the competition speaks for itself and 1999 European cup winner Andrew Cole recognises this: “It’s not even like he has pace,” says Cole. “But he has movement to kill for and always scores.”

It is not only the Spaniard, however, that might stifle and crush United’s dreams. “If you look beyond Raul and perhaps Manuel Neuer in this team and most of these names are relative unknowns to the casual observer,” says Zulquar, continuing with a hint of optimism and pessimism. “But, although, this Schalke side is not particularly talented, they have a number of really hard-working players.”

Greek midfielder Papadopoulus is a “more than decent defensive utility man,” while Benedikt Howedes is a “rugged center-back” and Japanese full-back Atsuto Uchida is cited as very useful at the back and going forward. Zulqaur then adds, colourfully: “Personally though, I have slight persuasion towards Jose Manuel Jurado, who is nifty and useful player, but some people will tell you that that is perhaps similar to your affinity towards Michael Carrick.” That ‘affinity’ towards Carrick is probably not suitable for this piece, seeing as the words ‘Dear Deirdre isn’t written anywhere amongst here (kidding).

Ralf Ragnick – ‘The Professor’

“It is fitting Ralf Rangnick would get his litmus test against Sir Alex Ferguson, because his whole life, he has modelled himself on: Arsene Wenger! True story,” says Zulquar. “Like his English counterpart, Rangnick is also called ‘The Professor,’ although his nickname might stem from the fact that he is in fact a trained school teacher. Rangnick and Ferguson are quite different although perhaps a similarity is that they both like their sides to play attacking football. I expect Rangnick to stay true to his philosophies, which are generally attacking.”

Zulquar adds that Ragnick can be dogmatic and rather arrogant, too: “He left Hoffenheim because he did not approve the board’s decision to sell Luis Gustavo. Rangnick does not like to be too answerable to higher authorities,” Zulquar declares. “In that way his role at most Bundesliga clubs had been similar to that of English managers. His first tenure at Schalke ended because he and Rudi Assauer did not get along and at Hoffenheim too, he jumped ship when the board started interfering.”

Sir Alex will certainly meet his match, it seems, with Ragnick and his feisty character. And Zulquar, ever the talker, delivers one last parting blow as a warning to United: “Oh, and long may the German knock-out curse remain a monkey on the back of Manchester United!”

Predicted Line Ups:

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Rooney, Park; Hernandez

Schalke 04 (4-4-1-1): Neuer; Uchida, Howedes, Metzelder, Sarpei; Papadopoulus, Jurado, Farfan, Schmitz; Raul; Edu

Zulquar is a contributor for bundesligafanatic.com

Follow him on Twitter

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