United book Barça showdown
© AFP

Manchester United's shadow squad secured a repeat of their 2009 UEFA Champions League final with Barcelona with a 4-1 win over Schalke in their semi-final second leg, but United manager Sir Alex Ferguson left no one in any doubt that Sunday's Premier League crunch with Chelsea is the most important task of the week.

First-half goals from Antonio Valencia and Darron Gibson ensured there was no way back for Schalke, who were already two goals down from the first leg, and a late double from Anderson completed a handsome victory.

For Gibson in particular it represented a fitting riposte to the critics who forced him off Twitter last week after spending barely two hours exposed to a demanding public. And Ferguson got exactly what he wanted too, namely the chance of revenge over Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who was watching from the stands, for that one-sided encounter in Rome.

"We have to make sure we learned our lessons and that we're better prepared this time than we were last time," Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar told ITV.

The Wembley final will be the 40-year-old's last in a United jersey before he retires. "To play at Wembley is going to be a great game and hopefully a better outcome than the last time otherwise it's going to be a terrible feeling," he added.

Perhaps the most crucial strategy of the night was Ferguson's decision to keep all his main players fresh for the visit of Carlo Ancelotti's side on Sunday. Eight changes from the weekend defeat at Arsenal was not so much a calculated gamble as a starting line-up born out of necessity from a manager who simply could not afford to risk injury.

To play at Wembley it's going to be a great game and hopefully a better outcome than the last time otherwise it's going to be a terrible feeling.
Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United goalkeeper

As a result, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand found themselves in the unusual position of not being required at all for a semi-final decider in European club football's biggest competition, while four more key men started on the bench.

"I didn't sleep last night thinking about it - I woke up four times - but they did me proud," Ferguson told ITV. "The fact it was a Champions League semi-final meant I questioned whether I had done the right thing, but glad I was vindicated.

"This team can win the cup - we have got a great team full of ability. Barcelona are without doubt the team of the moment - they play fantastic football and are a pleasure to watch."

Ferguson must have factored into his thinking that Schalke simply could not suffer a defeat as bad as they had on home soil eight days ago. They were certainly more solid in the opening stages, as was Gibson's stomach as he took an accidental kick from Jefferson Farfan.

United had an early chance to settle the tie when Dimitar Berbatov wriggled into space with some deft skill, only to allow Manuel Neuer to intercept his cross as Antonio Valencia waited for a tap-in. Chris Smalling was similarly frustrated the next time Berbatov found himself with a crossing opportunity.

United take the lead
The nervousness soon disappeared, though, as Anderson quickly switched a stray pass into Gibson's path. He picked out Valencia, and unlike last week, United did not need 11 chances before finding the net as the Ecuadorian sent his precise effort through Neuer's legs. Ferguson celebrated with the gusto of a man who felt the tie was over, his total confidence in a squad so many have doubted vindicated once more.

Within five minutes United had their second. The same three players were involved again too as Anderson used his strength to provide Valencia with a return pass. He rolled the ball into Gibson's path, although the Irishman would be the first to admit he benefited from a huge slice of good fortune as Neuer inexplicably fumbled, proving he is not perfect after all given last week's heroics.

It was simply unthinkable that United might lose a four-goal aggregate advantage, but Jose Jurado gave them something to ponder almost immediately when he profited from back-to-back errors by Smalling and Rafael.

To follow the burst of goals, three yellow cards were dished out with even greater speed, condemning United's entire central midfield trio to walk a disciplinary tightrope for the remainder of the game. The most vulnerable of the three was obviously Paul Scholes, who collected his caution for failing to retreat at a free-kick rather than one of his trademark wild tackles. But tonight there was never any danger of the 36-year-old overstepping the mark.

Anderson double
Gibson had already made a positive impact, as had Anderson. The Brazilian is still bedevilled by inconsistent performances, but this was a good one. He managed to do something he has never managed during his entire time at United - score twice in a game.

His first was due to his persistence, firing home with a shot on the turn after he had been crowded out of his first attempt to finish Nani's low cross. The second was a tap-in thanks to Berbatov's unselfish square ball.

With Darren Fletcher returning after two months out and no one suspended for the final, everything had gone right for Ferguson and his team. But the true test this week will come from another team in blue, desperate to retain their title and thirsting for revenge at being eliminated from this very competition at the quarter-final stage.

Schalke boss Ralf Rangnick said his side had been deservedly beaten. "I have to congratulate Manchester United - over the two games they were the better side," he said. "As soon as we went behind it was difficult for us.

"If you look at the comparison of their so-called second string the quality of their players stands out. Berbatov, Anderson performed well - they're the sort of players that most Bundesliga teams would be happy with. We have to admit we could have gone out in the quarter-final against Inter - tonight we found out our level."