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Antonio Valencia hailed the strength of Manchester United FC's squad after Sir Alex Ferguson's much-changed team recorded the club's biggest European win this season to book their place in the UEFA Champions League final.
Together with Edwin van der Sar, Valencia was one of only two survivors from United's first-leg win over FC Schalke 04 and he got the ball rolling in Wednesday night's 4-1 success in the Old Trafford return, firing the hosts ahead in the 26th minute. Darron Gibson and Anderson, with two second-half goals, completed the scoring as United set up a UEFA Champions League final showdown with FC Barcelona on 28 May.
"The squad is important – the manager changed nine players and we showed we're still a strong team," Valencia told UEFA.com. "The fans enjoyed it and the players who came in did a good job." Among that number was Gibson whose pass split the Schalke defence to set up Valencia to tuck away the opening goal. "It was a very clever pass from Gibson, a great ball," said the Ecuador winger, who underlined his own rich vein of form by helping set up the remaining three goals.
"I'm growing in confidence. I have been back playing two months and am really happy with the way things are going," said Valencia. If his European campaign began under a cloud when he sustained an ankle fracture and ligament damage against Rangers FC on Matchday 1, it now holds the promise of a silver lining at Wembley.
It means a lot after having the injury and getting the chance to play in the final makes it even more enjoyable and I hope we can do a good job. We hope it is going to be a good game; the manager is very intelligent and we'll wait for him, as he has done for many years, to set us up the right way to face Barcelona."
Defender John O'Shea believes United will be able to learn from the clubs' recent meetings – their 2008 semi-final win and 2009 final defeat - as they prepare for the Wembley showpiece. "There will be cases where we look at the game at the Nou Camp when we drew and then we beat them at Old Trafford [securing a 1-0 aggregate success], and the game in Rome. There will be different situations we can learn from and gain experience from - that [final] especially.
It is hard, they have taken care of Real Madrid quite comfortably and we know we will have to perform very well to win. We know they are a fantastic team but they will be worried about some of our players too, we will put it to one side for now but hopefully we will have the Premier League crown wrapped up and can look forward to Wembley then.
Like Valencia, O'Shea praised the effort of some of United's fringe players as the manager shuffled his pack with an eye on Sunday's key Premier League meeting with Chelsea FC. "[Last Sunday] against Arsenal we didn't have the same intensity we would have liked so the manager decided to freshen things up tonight to make sure we can fully focus on Chelsea.
"I am sure there were a few eyebrows raised beforehand but that's where the manager has faith in the team and the squad. And it was important we repaid him and put in a quality performance and we showed the manager has a great squad to pick from."
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