Sir Alex Ferguson admitted on Monday that Manchester United's push for UEFA Champions League glory is fired by a desire to make ground on their more decorated European rivals.
United tackle Schalke on Tuesday in the first leg of their semi-final, as they bid to reach what would be their third final in the space of four years. The three-time champions are seasoned operators on the European stage and have yet to lose in this season's competition, but Ferguson says they still have ground to make up in the silverware stakes.
"The present group has enough experience in Europe now. I think it's where we should be," said the United coach at his pre-match press conference. "My expectation has always been high in regard to the European scene. You do get envious of other clubs' records in Europe and we're trying to get to parity with those clubs: Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Liverpool...We need to progress quickly to get to that level again."
United, eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Bayern last season, will be appearing in the semi-finals of Europe's premier cup tournament for the 12th time, while Schalke are novices at this stage of the competition.
Ferguson's side are therefore strong favourites to reach the Wembley decider on 28 May, but the Scot says past experience suggests they are in for a bumpy ride. "You always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition," he said. "We've had the same situation over the years, when we played Juventus [in 1998-99]. There was apprehension in the first game at home [1-1] but we released that in the second leg (3-2).
"It was the same with Barcelona [in 2007-08]. We got the result we wanted at home [a 1-0 win after a 0-0 draw in the away leg] but the last few minutes were agony," he went on. "You run the full gamut of emotion in Champions League semi-finals, because it's never easy."