Seeing Fergie smiling and joking on the touchline is a sight rarer than a tackle from Carrick. Yet there he was after 86 minutes against Schalke, grinning at Mike Phelan through chewed gum knowing that he had just presided over a virtually immaculate performance. Champion’s League semi-finals are supposed to be tense, nervy high-pressure affairs. I have particular memories of the tie against Barcelona in 2008 when me and my Dad exchanged almost no words at all during the two matches, such was the apprehension.
Considering Schalke scored five in the San Siro, it is, I am afraid, still too early to book tickets for Wembley. However, the memories of Bayern, and Borrusia Dortmund in particular, still remain clear and this is a moment to cherish.
In the mid-nineties we played Juventus seemingly every season and it was several years before we got a result against them. At the time it looked very much a case of men against boys. Ten years prior to that and we were losing to the likes of Bournemouth in the FA Cup. It really is wonderful to see the side on the verge of making its third European Cup Final in four years.
The nature of being a fan of this team is that even when they are completely outclassing the opposition, you still expect them to concede imminently. This was hardly helped by Manuel Neuer putting in one of the best first-half goalie displays I’ve seen in my life. For a moment or two there I thought; “Are we Newcastle? Is this 1996?”
The man who was, and has been for ages, rolling back the years is Ryan Giggs. Although there was a little bit of disappointment that he missed his chance early in the second half, the way he combined with Rooney for the opener was sublime.
But there were heroes across the pitch. It isn’t just the players who concentrate more in Europe; it’s us fans too. Personally I feel like I can’t take my eyes off the action. You notice more when you watch games that way and I feel remiss in not mentioning before how superb Valencia’s first touch is. Even more cheering is that Fabio, our third choice right-back, looked like a duck on a pond in this fixture. The future could be just a rosy as the present if we manage these players properly.
Supervising the next three fixtures is going to be tricky to say the least. The return leg of this tie is sandwiched between league matches against Arsenal and Chelsea and the destiny of the Premier League title. With an aging manager on the verge of a European Cup Final at Wembley, thanks to a performance from an old-stager, it’s just possible that destiny is on our side.
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