Real Madrid vs. Schalke 04, Champions League draw: should be simple for the champions
Like last year, Schalke have to meet Real Madrid in the Round of 16. And like last year, the result is almost certain to favor the Spaniards.
Well, this is just not fair, is it? Schalke 04 are doing well to pull themselves together after a tough start to the domestic season, and they managed to squeak into the knockout rounds on the final day of the Champions League group stage. Yet they have to face Real Madrid. Not only last year’s winners, but the team that beat them 9-2 on aggregate in last season’s tournament.
It’s ok to cry, Schalke.
The current holders of the European Cup are back chasing their 11th title after finally completing La Decima last season. Madrid were the best team in group stage play, going 6-0 and collecting a maximum 18 points barely being challenged along the way. They looked like the best team in Europe, which makes sense as they are the best team in Europe.
It’s tough to find a weakness on this team, and when you consider the fact that Jesé has recently returned from a knee injury and Luka Modrić could be back for the start of the knockout round, they’re only going to get better. This team is loaded on the attack with Cristiano Ronaldo, Garth Bale, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema, they’re tough in the midfield and the defense is playing well thanks in part to the resurgence of Iker Casillas.
They’ll be the team to beat for the Champions League, and it’s going to to take a special performance, or a really good team, to knock them off. If that doesn’t happen it’s reasonable to think that they could be lifting a second straight European Cup come May … as long as they don’t get complacent or suffer from a lack the urgency without the dangling carrot of the tenth title out in front of them.
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s not a revelation to anyone that Ronaldo is the key to Madrid’s success. His talent is obvious, his ability to score goals well documented, his love of buying expensive gifts for teammates written about as well. He’s a marvel of modern football and a huge part of why Madrid are on track for the La Liga title and potentially another Champions League triumph. Even if you manage to slow him down, there’s so much other talent around him, it may not matter.
And do we really think it’s Schalke that can slow him, anyway? He did score four over two legs last year, after all.
Schalke have had a tough start to the Bundesliga season, but since bringing Roberto Di Matteo on board, they’ve climbed back to the European positions. It’s awfully crowded up there, though, and Schalke may decide that it’s not worth troubling with Real Madrid, and focusing on the domestic campaign instead.
Since Roberto Di Matteo took over as manager in October, Schalke have been playing much better football on a whole than they opened the season playing. They’ve been more organized and coherent, defending in packs and attacking with vigor and quality. But a surprise loss to Köln in the last round shows they’ve still got weaknesses they’ve yet to deal with, weaknesses Madrid will have absolutely no trouble exploiting.
Key player: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
Moved up top by Di Matteo, suddenly the Cameroonian is on fire. He’s had eight goals in 15 matches, scored a hat-trick against Stuttgart and, in case you’re realizing Stuttgart are the league’s bottom side, also scored two in Schalke’s impressive win over Wolfsburg. With the way the Schalke attack is flowing now, Choupo-Moting could be fed from any number of sources, from the wingbacks to the talent in the middle.
Yet he’s got to go up against Real Madrid, which will change the equation just a bit, particularly considering most Bundesliga clubs are quite willing to concede goals.