|1||Van der Sar|
One down, two to go.
After Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Manchester City, the FA Cup is out of reach. But Manchester United remain in pole position to win a record 19th league title and face German side Schalke over two legs for a place in the European Cup final. Life could be worse.
Of course, on Saturday at Wembley that was scant consolation for the 40-odd-thousand Reds who travelled to London to watch only the second ever Manchester derby to be played outside of the city. Unfortunately, it went the same way as the first. On that occasion, back in 1926, City won an FA Cup semi-final 3-0 at Bramall Lane. This time there was only one goal in it but the result was just as devastating.
After an evenly contested first period, a lapse in concentration at the beginning of the second was pounced on and United punished dearly. The task was then made even more difficult when Paul Scholes was sent off on 72 minutes for a studs-up challenge on Pablo Zabaleta that left the Argentinian with two nasty cuts on his right thigh.
When the Reds' FA Cup dream came to an end at the semi-final stage in 2009 at least there was the “weakened team” argument to play. On Saturday, there were no such excuses. Despite Tuesday's looming trip to St James' Park, United fielded a full-strength side at Wembley. This was a derby, after all. And, for that matter, an FA Cup semi-final.
Sir Alex named his strongest available back five. There was also room in the starting XI for three traditional wingers, although Ji-sung Park tucked in centrally alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, with Nani and Antonio Valencia on the flanks.