Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti believes Cristiano Ronaldo is raring to return to action in the Champions League against Schalke on Wednesday. Ronaldo scored a record nine goals in the group phase and a after his three-match ban in La Liga, Ancelotti has suggested that more could be set to follow in the first leg of their last-16 tie in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday.
“Ronaldo is especially motivated because he is ready to play again, he said, according to UEFA.com. “He is very well prepared and has the right balance. I expect him to be in top shape, mentally and physically.”
Even having been without their talisman of late, Real Madrid couldn’t wish to come into the match in better form. Madrid have gone an extraordinary 26 matches unbeaten in all competitions, dating back to October. A 3-0 win over Elche on Saturday, followed by defeats the following day for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, meant for the first time this campaign Madrid took sole possession of top spot in La Liga.
After a difficult start to his reign at the Bernabeu, Ancelotti’s team has flourished since he switched to a 4-3-3 formation. The system has allowed a team full of attacking talent, like Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria, to remain balanced and defensively solid.
But it is the Champions League, and specifically ending the wait for a 10th European Cup, that remains the priority at Madrid. Still, Ancelotti has said that he won’t be making any alterations to his preparation as the competition gets back underway.
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“I won’t be changing anything,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “I'm here to do my best in every competition. Everyone knows the Champions League is the best competition in the world- and the most difficult. You need everything to win it -- including luck. We need to give our maximum in every game. Every game you play is dangerous. We don’t want this good moment of form we’re in to end just yet and we prepare for all of our games in the same way.”
Madrid’s only absentee heading to the Stadion Gelsenkirchen is Germany international Sami Khedira. The fitness situation is not so positive for Schalke, although coach Jens Keller has received two notable boosts in recent days. In-demand starlet Julian Draxler returned from his layoff as a substitute in a goalless draw at home to Mainz last Friday, while captain Benedikt Howedes is also back in training. Marco Hoger, Dennis Aogo, Atsuto Uchida and Christian Clemens remain on the sidelines, however.
While the draw with Mainz was a disappointment, Schalke come into the meeting with Madrid in good form. Their five wins and two draws from their last seven matches have taken them into fourth place and right in the running for a return to the Champions next season. In this year’s group phase, Schalke won their final game against Basel to progress. And Keller is not willing to settle for just enjoying their two matches against the Spanish giants.
"The tie is a highlight for the club, the players, the fans, and also for me," he said, according to Schalke’s official website. "We're looking forward to the two games, but we aren't going into them just to swap shirts with the Real stars. We're going to see if we can pull off a minor miracle. There's no pressure on us. We want to put in a bold performance and present ourselves as a collective. If every player gives 100 percent, we can get a good result."
Where to watch: The Champions League round-of-16 first leg will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 2, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.