GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany, April 26 – Schalke 04 coach Ralf Rangnick believes his players have the necessary hunger to upset three-time European champions Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals.
Schalke welcome United to the Veltins Arena for the first leg on Tuesday and while the visitors are bidding to reach a third final in four years, Schalke will be making their first ever appearance at this stage of the competition.
The German side eliminated holders Inter Milan with a shock 7-3 aggregate victory in the quarter-finals, however, and Rangnick has encouraged his charges to seize the moment once again against Sir Alex Ferguson’s storied team.
"Sir Alex has much more experience and titles than me, that’s clear, and it’s also the same for the two teams," said Rangnick in his pre-match press conference on Monday.
"We’re younger and less experienced but, I think, hungrier than them. Against Inter, we compensated for our lack of experience with our enthusiasm, our commitment and our discipline.
"It’s up to us to reproduce that in front of our fans and at Old Trafford. It’s an important match for all of us. Who knows how many players in this team will find themselves in this position again?"
Schalke rocked Inter with a three-goal second-half blitz in the first leg of their last-eight tie at San Siro, after the hosts had taken a first-minute lead through a stunning halfway-line volley from Dejan Stankovic.
The result gave Rangnick’s side an imposing 5-2 first-leg advantage, but the former Hoffenheim coach — who replaced the sacked Felix Magath only last month — believes the meeting with United will be a much more taut affair.
"I’m convinced that nothing will be decided on Tuesday, either one way or the other," he said.
"I even think that it could be decided in the final minutes of the return leg.
"Manchester are much better organised and more compact than Inter Milan were. It will therefore not be easy to score, either at home or at their place.
"We have to be solid in the first leg in order to put ourselves in a situation that could be turned to our advantage in Manchester and allow us to reach the final."
Having previously guided Schalke to a runners-up finish in both the league and the German Cup during his first stint in charge in the 2004-05 season, Rangnick etched his name into club folklore by masterminding the demise of Inter.
Nicknamed ‘The Professor’ due to a studious tactical demonstration he gave during a 1998 appearance on German television, he has also been praised for bringing a touch of lightness to the club following the departure of the disciplinarian Magath.
Schalke’s astonishing success at San Siro was built on a courageous attacking approach that seemed to catch Inter by surprise, but Rangnick refused to share his tactical strategy for United.
"I’m not going to reveal my tactics the day before the match," he said.
"Everything depends on whether certain players can play, particularly (centre-back Benedikt) Howedes.
"The danger of Man United isn’t restricted to (strikers Wayne) Rooney and (Javier) Hernandez. They also have players with real attacking intent like Nani, (Antonio) Valencia, (Ryan) Giggs, Park (Ji-Sung) or even (Patrice) Evra.
"We’ll have to work well collectively, be compact and disciplined and seek to capitalise on the smallest chance.
"We know it’s going to be difficult, but you can’t expect that things are going to get easier in the semi-finals of the Champions League."