Champions League semifinal preview
The Champions League semifinals begin Tuesday, with three traditional powers and a club that sits 10th in the Bundesliga. Here are five notes previewing Manchester United versus Schalke and Real Madrid versus Barcelona:
• Manchester United is in the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons, while its opponent, Schalke, is the rookie of this year's remaining teams, making its first appearance in the Champions League semis. Manchester United has yet to allow a goal in five road games during the competition this season, and the only blemish on its away record is a scoreless draw at Marseille in the round of 16. But Schalke has been impressive at AufSchalke Arena this campaign, sporting a 5-0-0 record and a 13-3 goal advantage.
• Manchester United has been eliminated in all four of its two-legged Champions League series against German clubs. United was knocked out on road goals in two of those four meetings, including last year's quarterfinals versus Bayern Munich. The away leg has been the undoing for the Red Devils, who are 0-3-1 in the knockout stage in Germany. Of course, none of these numbers include Manchester United's most notable match against a German side, the dramatic 1999 Final in which United defeated Bayern Munich 2-1 on a pair of stoppage-time goals.
• Although Raul was thought to be washed up when he left Real Madrid for Schalke this past summer, he now leads Schalke with 12 Bundesliga goals and five Champions League goals. Those five tallies have made Raul the all-time scoring leader in UEFA competition with 73, three ahead of Filippo Inzaghi. Raul scored once in each leg of the quarterfinals and tied Andriy Shevchenko for most career goals in the Champions League knockout stage with 18.
• Barcelona and Real Madrid have split three meetings this season, with each team going 1-1-1. Barcelona has the La Liga title virtually locked up, and Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey last week, so the decisive meetings will be in the Champions League semifinals. The only other time these rivals have met in Champions League play was the 2002 semifinals, when Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate, including a 2-0 victory at Camp Nou, en route to winning its most recent Champions League title.
• The outcome could depend on the health of Barca's Carles Puyol, who continues to battle a hamstring injury. All five of Barcelona's losses this season have come without Puyol in the lineup. Surprisingly, the defense doesn't appear to be the problem without the central defender; Barcelona is allowing only 0.2 more goals per game without Puyol. But Barca's offense has diminished, as the team is scoring more than a goal less per game without the shaggy-haired defender.