Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after the English side’s 2-0 Champions League triumph.
Neuer was rumoured to be in Ferguson’s sights as a replacement for retiring United shot-stopper Edwin van der Sar at season’s end, but the German number one has since firmed as the Bayern Munich’s number one goalkeeper for next season.
The 25-year-old kept United at bay for nearly 70 minutes in the semi-final first leg at Veltins Arena on Tuesday, before the English Premier League powerhouse broke through to score two goals in as many minutes via Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney to put a stranglehold on the tie.
Ferguson, however, praised Neuer for his first-half heroics, which saw him keep out a flurry of on-target shots from the likes of Giggs, Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Park Ji-Sung.
“I think we know that (Neuer is Bayern Munich-bound) but he was fantastic. It’s one of the best performances I have seen against Manchester United,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
The legendary Scot was in no doubt that his side was superior at Gelsenkirchen against their Bundesliga opposition on Tuesday and was left pleased with United’s dominance in possession.
“I think the concentration and intensity of our play, the speed of our passing was absolutely excellent tonight. It was a really, really top performance,” Ferguson said.
“For me, when Chicharito (Hernandez) scored when he was offside, that told the players they could beat this goalkeeper (Neuer) and of course then Ryan (Giggs) scored and it’s a marvellous result.”
Ferguson confirmed that starting Antonio Valencia ahead of speedy winger Nani was no slight on the Portuguese star’s form, rather a positive reinforcement of the Ecuadorian’s ability to perform on the big stage.
“The continuity of selection in these games gives me a good foundation, we have good experience and a good work rate and I’ve good got options because Nani could have played but Valencia’s form showed why he’s played,” he said.
Schalke manager Ralf Rangnick recognised Neuer’s efforts in the first-half, but rued his side’s inability to cut down United’s space in midfield.
“In the first 15 minutes it was an even match, even though they’d already found some gaps by then. We put some quite good moves together when in possession, but the final pass didn’t come off like it did against Inter (in the quarter-finals),” Rangnick said.
“From 15 minutes on, we did something wrong with every United attack, making poor decisions, offering them too much room and standing around in space without attacking.”
“They threatened with every attack and we had Manuel Neuer to thank for not being one, two or even three goals down at half-time. If you have followed his development in recent years you would know that there is no better goalkeeper in Europe or anywhere else.”
The second leg will take place at Old Trafford next Wednesday, with the overall winner booking a place in the Champions League final at Wembley on May 28.
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