Real Madrid’s firepower came to the fore to rout Schalke, 6-1, on Wednesday in Gelsenkirchen, to all-but secure their place in the Champions League quarterfinals with a return match still to play.
Madrid’s devastating front line of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo shared the plunder with two goals apiece against a shambolic Schalke side, whose only response came courtesy of fine late strike by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men could not have come into the game in better spirits, having gone 26 matches unbeaten in all competitions and moved three points clear at the top of La Liga at the weekend. Following a difficult start, Ancelotti has impressively been able to get the best out of his attacking talent, while still maintaining a well-balanced lineup. After losing in three successive Champions League semifinals, perhaps only Bayern Munich look more formidable right now than a Madrid side searching for their long-coveted 10th European Cup.
Schalke had been in impressive form themselves in recent weeks, but from the off they looked overawed by their opponents and fatally undermanned defensively to cope with what was in front of them.
It took just 13 minutes for the visitors to get off the mark. From Bale’s square pass, Ronaldo tried to flick it back into the Welshman’s path, but it instead deflected off of Felipe Santana perfectly for Benzema who finished with authority from 12 yards out.
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Schlake were looking to take the game to their opponents and it took an incredible save from Iker Casillas to prevent Julian Draxler from scoring from close range. But the team fourth in the Bundesliga were just far too open at the other end to remain competitive. In the 21st minute, Madrid doubled their lead. Again Santana, who had an evening to forget, was caught out, this time losing the ball to Benzema. The striker found Bale inside and the big-money signing gave a fine exhibition of his skill by slaloming through two challenges and, as a third arrived, shooting past Ralf Fahrmann.
Ronaldo soon hit the post, but Schalke held out against further punishment before it arrived thick and fast in the second half. First, Ronaldo, who had missed three La Liga matches through suspension, showed that he was chomping at the bit to mark his return. A trademark array of stepovers from Ronaldo took him past a beleaguered Joel Matip before he drilled the ball home with his left foot. Five minutes later Ronaldo was involved again, twice combining with Benzema to get the France international through to go past Schalke’s goalkeeper and finish from a tight angle.
Madrid’s final two goals both arose from Schalke’s casualness on the ball. In the 69th minute, Sergio Ramos stole the ball on halfway, strode forward and played Bale through in the inside right channel. A clinical finish with his left foot gave him his 14th goal of his debut season at Madrid. And with a minute remaining, substitute Isco won the ball back in the Schalke half, before Benzema found Ronaldo, who rounded Fahrmann to score.
Arguably the best goal of the night, though, came from the home side. The fans, who kept cheering in Gelsenkirchen to the end, were given a late reward as former Madrid striker Huntelaar rifled home a venomous volley in off the underside of the crossbar from the edge of the area.