Real Madrid will have plenty of positive memories when they continue the defense of their Champions League title by visiting Schalke on Wednesday, but neither side are anticipating a repeat of last season’s emphatically one-sided affair. For the second season running, the teams have been drawn together in the Round of 16. And again the first leg will be in Gelsenkirchen, just as it was 12 months ago when Real Madrid effectively ended the tie as a contest by inflicting a chastening 6-1 defeat on their German hosts.
Real Madrid went onto win 9-2 on aggregate, before lifting the European Cup for an unprecedented 10th time. But captain Iker Casillas expects that, if anything, last season’s result in Germany makes the matchup a more perilous one.
“It will be very difficult,” he told UEFA, according to Real Madrid’s official website. “The atmosphere in Germany will be very intense. They are aware that they have an opportunity to get revenge and we expect a tough game.” “The fact that we faced them last year does not benefit us. If anything, it gives them an advantage. It would be a mistake to think that playing in Gelsenkirchen will be easy and that we'll repeat what happened last year. Quite the opposite: we have to be careful and go there with humility. It will be a very tough tie.”
For Real Madrid, there is more reason for trepidation now than when the draw was made in December. Two months ago, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were on a Spanish-record run of 22 consecutive victories that culminated in them finishing 2014 by lifting the Club World Cup. Since then, though, their form has subsided. The drop off in performances largely went unpunished, until they visited rivals Atlético Madrid earlier this month and were handed their biggest defeat in more than four years, 4-0. A 2-0 win at home to Deportivo la Coruna on Saturday steadied the ship, but was not wholly convincing.
And their opponents have changed much from a year ago. The bold approach of Jens Keller has given way to the caution of former Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo following a poor start to the season. Having guided them through to the last 16 of the Champions League, Di Matteo also has Schalke up to fourth place in the Bundesliga. And attacker Sidney Sam believes they are much better equipped for the challenge of stopping Real Madrid this season.
“It’s a new season, a new situation. I think we are more stable as a team this year,” Sam said, reports Schalke’s official website. “The side have shown in the recent games against Bayern München and Borussia Mönchengladbach that they can prevent sides from creating chances.”
Schalke will, however, continue to battle a lengthy injury list. The situation is particularly severe in goal where first-choice Ralf Fährmann and understudy Fabian Giefer are absent, meaning 19-year-old Timon Wellenreuther will start for a third match in succession. Among those also missing are starlet Julian Draxler and winger Jefferson Farfan. Di Matteo will, though, be able to call upon striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the first time this month, with the Netherlands international serving a domestic suspension.
Real Madrid have injury problems, too, with James Rodríguez, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Sami Khedira missing. However, Pepe is back in the squad after a month on the sidelines.
Prediction: While Schalke’s results, before a 1-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, have generally been impressive, their performances have been less convincing. Clearly, injuries have not helped, and Di Matteo’s restricted squad will face a severe test on Wednesday. With Schalke more defensively solid and Real Madrid not in sparkling form, there is unlikely to be a repeat of the mauling of a year ago, but Ancelotti’s men should still take a considerable advantage back to the Bernabeu.
Schalke 0-2 Real Madrid
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1