German side Schalke 04 will host reigning champions Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 first-leg.
The visitors have fond memories of the fixture, having thrashed Die Knappen 1-6 at the Veltins-Arena in the corresponding fixture last year, en route to their historic La Decima triumph.
The Gelsenkirchen based hosts are fourth in the Bundesliga, chasing a Champions League spot, while Real Madrid lead the La Liga by a single point. Star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is back to face his former employees after serving a four-match ban.
Key playmaker Julian Draxler, who injured his thigh during Schalke’s 1-0 win over Augsburg in early November, is still unavailable, while the duo of Leon Goretzka and Jefferson Farfan will also won’t be available with hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
Real Madrid have also struggled with injuries of late, with Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez suffering long-term injuries, to add to the previous casualty of Luka Modric. Pepe’s return from a rib injury has given Los Blancos a timely boost.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Benedikt Höwedes
One man who will be the centre of attraction will be Cristiano Ronaldo. Since returning from his 2-game ban, the Portuguese forward has drawn blank in the ensuing fixtures against Atlético Madrid and Deportivo de La Coruña. He will be raring to find his feet against the German’s, but will be stifled in his efforts by Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes. The World Cup winner operates on the right side of Schalke’s back 3, and he will come quite handy against the Ballon d’Or winners pace and strength.
Toni Kroos vs Marco Höger
Toni Kroos swapped Germany for Spain in the summer, and since has established himself as an indispensable unit in Carlo Ancelotti’s plans. The German has started each in of Real’s La Liga and Champions League games, setting-up 9 goals. He knows the Ruhr side well from his time at Bayern Munich, and Marco Höger will be assigned the task to stop Kroos from influencing the game like he has done time and again in the past.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar vs Pepe
“I’m itching to get going. I’m finally allowed to play again!,” said an enthused Huntelaar. The Dutch forward, who endured a tough short spell in the Spanish capital, will look to exert revenge against the side that deemed him surplus. The returning Pepe will have a job at his disposal, with Huntelaar capable of converting any half chance.
-This is only the second time Schalke and Real Madrid will meet in European competition.
-This is the 18th consecutive season in which Real Madrid have reached the knockout round of the Champions League, the longest run in the history of the competition.
– Real Madrid have reached the semi-finals in each of the last four seasons, winning the competition for the 10th time last year, a record
– Schalke have conceded 19 goals in their last six Champions League knockout games (D1 L5).
– Real Madrid have won 18 of their last 20 Champions League games (D1 L1)
– If Real Madrid beat Schalke, it will be their 10th consecutive win in the Champions League, equaling the record set by Bayern Munich (10 wins from April to November 2013).
– Real Madrid have had the most shots (123), including the most on target (49) in this season’s Champions League.
– 75% of Real Madrid’s goals in this season’s Champions League have come in the first-half (12 out of 16).
– Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has scored eight goals in 10 Champions League games at the Veltins Arena.
– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 57 goals in 57 Champions League games for Real Madrid.
Roberto Di Matteo
Having guided Chelsea to the Champions League, Di Matteo is no stranger to the competition. Despite having to face the huge challenge of their Spanish opponents, the Italian remains unperturbed, citing his sides’ winning mindset as a potential weapon.
We’ll be playing against one of the best teams in the world. But we’re going into the game with the mindset that we want to win. We believe in ourselves and we can win the game.”
“Obviously Real are the favourites over the two games, but I think we have a bit more experience of these games now and hopefully we can show that tomorrow.”
Carlo Ancelotti spoke of his intentions to defend the Champions League, and has wowed to do everything possible to regain the title, while also being confident that his side will build-on their weekend’s performance.
“We have the greatest motivation possible in La Liga. We are top and when you are first there is no greater motivation than winning the league. The same is true in the Champions League. We are the European champions and will do all we can to win the competition again”.
“We have to enjoy this game now and get back to playing well, with intensity and with motivation. I am confident because the team played well on Sunday and I think they’ll be even better tomorrow”.
Schalke 04: (3-1-4-2): Wellenreuther; Höwedes, Matip, Nastasić; Kirchhoff; Uchida, Barnetta, Höger, Fuchs; Huntelaar, Sam.
Real Madrid: (4-3-3): Casillas; Carvajal, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Illaramendi, Kroos, Isco; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
My Prediction: 0-2
Expect Schalke to have learnt a lesson from last year, but a defeat might be inevitable. Having to tweak his side due to injuries, Di Matteo might not be able to put a strong enough fight.