Schalke display their Champions League finest in honourable defeat

Real Madrid 3 (Ronaldo 25′, 45′, Benzema 53′)

Schalke 4 (Fuchs 20′, Huntelaar 40′, 87′, Sane 57′)

During Tuesday’s match, several tweets from both neutral and Schalke fan sites paraphrased the same message: “Not the same Schalke side.”

Not the same Schalke side that was woefully inadequate in losing the Revierderby 3-0 to Dortmund. Not the same listless Schalke side that dropped the first leg at home to Real Madrid 2-0. Not the same tentative, defensive-minded side that Roberto DI Matteo installed since he took over earlier this year.

No, tonight’s Schalke side was brash, confident, and energetic. They had the defending European side in constant uncomfortable turmoil. Real Madrid had to rely on Christiano Ronaldo’s headers, along with defensive lapses by both the back three and keeper Timon Wellenreuther, who again revealed his inexperience.

Schalke’s defeat was supposed to be a certainty, yet while it happened, Real Madrid’s win came down to late saves by Iker Casillas on both Leroy Sane and Benedikt Hoewedes to advance the title holders to another quarterfinal.

It is incredible that Schalke ended up with 54% possession during the match, for a team that has struggled controlling the ball and was playing on the road. In the end, with Huntelaar’s incredible strike for the fourth goal and a brace, Schalke became the first European team outside of Spain to win at Bernabeu since April 2011. A performance worthy to add to the Royal Blue history pages.

Schalke played a 3-5-2 formation, but had a more fluid, attacking plan in place, unlike the recent Revierderby. What made Schalke’s formation fluid was the often under-used, but explosive young guns of talent, like Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka and Leroy Sane.

Sane left the biggest impression of the night with his explosive runs and his eye-catching goal to equalize the game at 3-3. The Essen native was making his Champuons League debut and only his sixth appearance for Schalke this season. Is anyone still missing Kevin-Prince Boateng?

Schalke need to maintain this same sense of offensive firepower as they can now solely focus on the Bundesliga and guaranteeing a return to the Champuons League next year.

Three Stars:

1. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – he was fired up for this game, scoring a brace and playing perhaps his most impressive game of 2014/15

2. Leroy Sane – a star in the making.

3. Max Meyer – following up his incredible Week 24 performance with another noteworthy performance, as he was allowed to apply his offensive skills. A wise starting choice for Di Matteo.

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