The record scorer in the Champions League history found himself in the unlikely situation of another European semi-final. Having scored in both legs of the quarter finals, Raul was rolling back the clock once again.
How they line up ?
Both sides started the match in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 and likewise both made 5 changes to their teams previous outing. Schalke brought in Uchida, Sarpei, Papadopoulos, Baumjohann and another Spaniard Jurado to the team that lost to Kaiserslautern at the weekend. United went with Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Giggs and Park who all sat out Saturdays home win with Everton.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the centre backs looking to keep an eye on Raúl.
Raúl hit the ground running with less than a minute gone, with a cheeky nutmeg on Carrick with his back to goal, he turned and laid the ball off. A header then took him by surprise 5 minutes later, creating a shooting chance for Edu which was comfortably saved. As the tempo was fast Man Utd looked for attack after attack, Raúl used his experience and drew a foul from Fabio. His ability to find space between the lines wasn’t used effectively enough in the opening exchanges. When United had the ball Raúl positioned himself between the triangle of the Centre Backs and Carrick trying to apply pressure, but as he was often a solitary figure they played the ball round him comfortably. When Schalke had possession deep he roamed just in front of the back four. In the 24th minute an uncharacteristic sloppy pass went to Park but Man Utd failed to break. Man Utd pressed better than Schalke, in contrast Rooney had the fantastic movement from Hernandez and Valencia and Park giving them width. Neuer made a number of first class saves to keep Schalke in the game. The German side needed more width and energy in order to compete with their English counterparts and help the Spaniard create problems.
After the break Raúl dropped a little deeper patrolling the space in front of Carrick when his side didn’t have the ball this seemed an immediate response to the time that the midfielder had been afforded in the first period. But Carrick just pushed further forward into an area in which Raúl didn’t want to drop into with little support off his team mates he was unable to press the United midfield. With an hour gone Schalke won a corner, Raúl played it to the edge of the area then curved his run so he was back onside receiving the ball after a deflected shot. Using the outside of his boot he cleverly curled it to the far post which was headed away. In the next 10 minutes Manchester United made their dominance shown as they scored two quick goals in succession. As commentator Grahame Souness pointed out Raúl continued to work hard without the ball but the service and assistance from his team mates just wasn’t there. The ball fell to him in the area in stoppage time but he has looking for a return ball.
With only one side ever in the contest this made life extremely difficult for the centre forward. Raúl worked hard but had little impact on the ball. His side looked nervous and struggled with the movement and intensity of United. A number of long balls from the back were dealt with comfortably by Ferdinand and Vidic in the air as Edu and the former Real striker couldn’t compete. When comparing Raúl’s passing to that of the home game against Inter it’s clear to see he didn’t have the most productive of evenings on the ball and too often had to make passes with his back to goal.
But also there was a lot less service to the front man than they had displayed in that Quarter Final tie.
Higher work-rate and fight will be needed for the second leg from his team mates. It’s unlikely that United will fail to reach the Wembley final but having scored five goals at the San Siro against the reigning champions Schalke will feel they are not out of it just yet. But just as Inter had their fair share of chances, United will undoubtedly get more at Old Trafford.