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Sir Alex Ferguson did not hold back on the superlatives after his Manchester United FC side won 2-0 away to FC Schalke 04 to emerge as firm favourites to reach the UEFA Champions League final at Old Trafford next Wednesday.
United did not concede a goal in their six away matches in the competition, solidity Sir Alex attributed to a growing maturity. Like his opposite number Ralf Rangnick, the Scot paid tribute to the performance of home goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, although the Schalke coach cursed some poor decision-making and vowed to play without inhibition in Manchester.
Ralf Rangnick, Schalke coach
In the first 15 minutes it was an even match, even though they'd already found some gaps by then. We put some quite good moves together when in possession, but the final pass didn't come off like it did against Inter.
From 15 minutes on we did something wrong with every United attack, making poor decisions, offering them too much room and standing around in space without attacking. They threatened with every attack and we had Manuel Neuer to thank for not being one, two or even three goals down at half-time. If you have followed his development in recent years you would know that there is no better goalkeeper in Europe or anywhere else.
It was better in the second half when we reverted to three holding players. We were more compact and got more players behind the ball, but didn't aggressively win balls like we did against Inter. Then we conceded a goal when they didn't look like scoring; they weren't playing with the same pace but we just watched them with only Peer Kluge attacking them.
I cannot criticise the fighting spirit we displayed, we have only been together for five weeks, it's more the tactical things that I find fault with. We will not capitulate and will have to try to improve several things in the return leg.
United are in the driving seat, of course, but a lot of things have happened in football and we've already shown that we can score goals away from home.
Maybe United will be too sure that they'll progress now. Who knows? We'll see. We can play there without any inhibitions and have absolutely nothing to lose.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager
It was a top performance and everyone has done fantastically well tonight.
Credit to the players for their belief in themselves and their trust in each other. Our concentration, our intensity of play and the speed of our passing were absolutely excellent.
I could sense a bit of frustration at half-time after the save to deny Ryan [Giggs] but the straw that broke the camel's back was when [Javier Hernández] scored the offside goal; it told the players they could beat this keeper. Then Ryan scored and then Wazza [Rooney], and it was a marvellous result. [Neuer] was fantastic; in my time at United it was probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us. I'm sure there have been other freak performances but tonight I saw a very good player.
I thought the goal was going to happen. We had so many chances but we have more experience now [than when United lost to Dortmund in 1997]. It's very welcome to beat a German club, we've waited a long time for it.
We've had some fantastic results [away from home in Europe] but it certainly ranks among the best. The concentration issues are so important away from home in Europe. It requires a different concentration and credit to the players for that. Over the last two or three years we have found a way of playing away from home in Europe. It requires some experience, of course, and confidence in possession of the ball, and we seem to be better away from home in Europe than anyone else.
If we can get a positive result on Sunday [against Arsenal], which is a very important game for us, then I could possibly make two or three changes [for the second leg] as we have Chelsea after that. It's seven or eight days that are crucial to the club but the players are relishing it. We're coming to our peak.
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