Two years after they met in the UEFA Champions League showpiece, Manchester United FC and FC Barcelona seem to be on a collision course again as the semi-finals reach their conclusion.
Goals in the 2009 final from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi at Rome's Stadio Olimpico prevented the Red Devils from becoming the first club to win back-to-back titles in the UEFA Champions League era, Sir Alex Ferguson's team having triumphed 12 months earlier against Chelsea FC in Moscow.
In the first leg of the all-Spanish semi-final, Barcelona established what would appear to be an insurmountable 2-0 lead against Real Madrid CF. Pepe and coach José Mourinho had been dismissed before two Lionel Messi strikes left the Merengues with it all to do on Tuesday at the Camp Nou. "Against ten players they could play much easier," said Mourinho. "The second game in Barcelona will be very difficult, almost impossible."
Indeed, only two sides have recovered from a first-leg home defeat to win a tie in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, and in both cases they only had to overturn 1-0 deficits: FC Internazionale Milano's triumph at FC Bayern München in this season's round of 16 (0-1 home, 3-2 away) and the 1995/96 semi-finals, when AFC Ajax recovered from losing 1-0 at home to Panathinaikos FC with a 3-0 away triumph.
Madrid have lost the home first leg five times in UEFA competition and won only one tie, recovering from a 1-0 loss with a 2-0 victory at Schwarz-Weiss Tirol Innsbruck in the 1970/71 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup second round.
Barcelona have progressed 30 out of the 32 times they won the away first leg in UEFA competition, including all six in which the away leg finished 2-0 in their favour. They have let a two-goal advantage slip, however, a 4-2 win at FC Metz preceding a 4-1 home reverse in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round.
There are no such chinks in United's armour as they await the return against FC Schalke 04. Having won 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen last week, the statistics say they are on the way to the Wembley final on 28 May; United have progressed in all 14 UEFA competition ties where they won the first game away from home, including against Chelsea in this season's quarter-finals (1-0 away, 2-1 home).
Schalke have lost only one home first leg in UEFA competition, going down 1-0 to Barcelona in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. They lost the away match by the same scoreline. Hope, however, springs eternal, and striker Raúl González said: "
There are 90 minutes left and we're not going to just give up; we know it's very difficult but will try to at least leave a good account of ourselves."
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