Schalke v Real Madrid (26th Feb-18th Mar)
Both teams are in their best run of form this season going into this tie. Madrid under Ancelotti are on the second-longest unbeaten run in club history while Schalke are undergoing their best spell since Jens Keller took over as coach.
Schalke started this season in inconsistent form but have since improved into an attacking force that Germany and Europe might well underestimate under Jens Keller. They have lost only once in their last 12 league games and have risen up into a Champions League spot, giving them the necessary boost of confidence ahead of their biggest game of the season. With the recent return of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Schalke have been revitalized in attack and with Max Meyer and Jefferson Farfán in top form, Julian Draxler close to 100% fitness, Schalke fans can feel confident about their sides position right now.
Like their Ruhr rivals from Dortmund, Schalke have faced their share of injuries this season which has more than often become a source of instability. Along with Huntelaar, they have missed captain Benedikt Höwedes, Atsuto Uchida, Christian Fuchs, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Julian Draxler and Kyriakos Papadoupolos to name just a few. Just recently Keller has found a working combination in defense with Felipe Santana and Joel Matip but will likely field a makeshift back four against Madrid.
Schalke made hard work of their progression through an awkward looking group earlier in the Champions League, scoring just six goals in their six games, of which three came in a single game against Steaua Bucharest. Nevertheless, they advanced behind group winners Chelsea after beating Basel on the final matchday. The big worry, though, were their two 3-0 losses to Chelsea which were symbolic of the team’s inconsistent form and proneness to individual lapses in concentration.
The question is very much one of Schalke’s ability to compete against the best teams. They have done well against opposition people expect them to take points off but faltered when put under greater pressure.
Unfortunately for Schalke, they came out with the toughest draw imaginable. Arguably the second best club side in Europe behind Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, have scored more goals in the competition so far than anyone and have a great record at this stage. The Spanish giants are locked in the tightest title race that Spanish football has seen for years but have grown with every game since Carlo Ancelotti took over int he summer.
Still, the ultimate glory for Madrid is a return to the European summit with the Champions League trophy the highest priority.
Real Madrid haven’t lost a competitive game since their trip to the Nou Camp in October last year, a run of 26 games. Schalke’s inconsistent defense this season will have its toughest test when it welcomes the world’s most expensive striker force, with all three star players in great form. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have all expressed their squad’s huge desire to go all the way in Europe this season and have netted a combined 67 goals in all competitions for the club.
If Schalke want to progress they have to absolutely contain Madrid’s attack. The question is, can they?
Jens Keller (Schalke coach)
After Bayern, Real Madrid are maybe the second-best team in the world at the moment. They have extraordinary players in every position so it won’t be an easy game. But we are the home team and must be brave; we will not hide. To be successful, everybody will have to be at 100%. Only then might it be possible to pull off a little miracle.
Real are on another level, financially, but as Dortmund proved by making it to the final last year, there is always a chance. Real Madrid have an incredible team but we’re not bad either. We’re in very good shape, as you can see from our recent results. But it is not just the results, but the manner in which we have achieved them.
Real are very strong at the back and play very aggressively. But our coaching staff will pinpoint some deficiencies and we will try to play on those. As you can see from the past few weeks, it can be quite hard to score against us. A clean sheet must be our aim.
Carlo Ancelotti (Madrid coach)
I predict an intense match and I think Schalke will give everything in going for the win. We know all about their qualities. They are very well-organised, especially at the back, and have a good balance between young talented players like Max Meyer and Julian Draxler, and players with a lot of experience like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. They do not play spectacular football but they are solid and consistent.
I do not have to tell my players much – they want to win every competition. At the moment the team are in a good shape, but we have to prepare for every match very methodically so that our run continues.
Ronaldo is especially motivated because he is ready to play again [after a three-match domestic ban]. He is very well prepared and has the right balance. I expect him to be in top shape, mentally and physically.
Prediction: Schalke to take a hard-fought draw to Madrid, before becoming unstuck with Ronaldo at the forefront of a big defeat.
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