MANCHESTER, United Kingdom MAY 5 – Manchester United will attempt to shrug off domestic disappointment by reaching their third Champions League final in four years against Schalke 04 here Wednesday.A 2-0 victory in the semi-final first leg in Germany has left United within touching distance of a place in the May 28 final and, crucially, has given Sir Alex Ferguson freedom to shuffle his pack for Wednesday’s return fixture.
The second leg at Old Trafford comes after United’s progress towards a record 19th Premier League crown suffered an unexpected setback with a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, a result that has blown the title race more open.
With United facing Chelsea in a crunch Premier League meeting next weekend that could well decide the outcome of the title, Ferguson has said he will rest some of his key players against Schalke.
"I will make some changes on Wednesday without question," Ferguson revealed. "I will bring Paul Scholes back in, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen."
Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher may also make a return to first team after completing 45 minutes in a reserve match, Ferguson confirmed.
"We’ll need to do that but I will probably keep my experienced players at the back. We have a big week ahead. Wednesday is a European semi-final second leg and then the game on Sunday.
"Two massive games, so we will regroup and freshen it up."
Ferguson is also confident that his side remain in a strong position in both domestic and European competitions.
"We’re in as good a position as we could ever have wished for from the start of the season," Ferguson said.
"We’re in the semi-final of the European Cup in the second leg, with a two-goal lead, and we go into Chelsea with equal goal difference and a home game."
Failure to seal the deal against a Schalke side who were so comprehensively outplayed in the first leg would represent an upset of unthinkable proportions, even allowing for the fact that Schalke produced the away result of this year’s Champions League when they downed Inter Milan 5-2 in the quarter-finals.
As if being given a masterclass by United last week wasn’t bad enough — when only the goalkeeping heroics of Manuel Neuer prevented a rout — the Germans’ confidence also received another mauling at the weekend when they were beaten 4-1 by Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
However United defender Patrice Evra has warned his team-mates against the perils of complacency, citing his experiences with Monaco seven years ago.
"In football you never know," said the France defender.
"I remember playing for Monaco in the 2004 quarter-final and we played in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid and lost 4-2.
"Real thought they were going into the semi-final. They thought they were there already. But in the second leg we won 3-1 and went through."
Evra however is confident that United will progress provided they play to their potential.
"We just have to do our job," said Evra. "We are very near to the final now but we have to complete the task we have started.
"We have to win at Old Trafford. If we don’t go through to the final now then it would be a disaster for Man United."