Madrid looks to extend 2-0 Champions advantage over Schalke
MADRID (AP) — No competition is more important for Real Madrid than the Champions League, and the squad will hope to ease recent doubts about its winning mindset when it hosts Schalke at the Santiago Bernabeu holding a 2-0 first-leg advantage.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has acknowledged that Madrid’s slump in form this year is confusing, but believes he knows how to fix it.
Madrid’s most attacking lineup of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale has gone from scoring an average of 2.6 goals per match in a trophy-laden 2014 that saw the team notch up a 22-game winning streak, to just 1.3 so far this year.
“What we are doing when we attack at the moment is quite confusing,” he said. “There is too much individual play.”
The Italian acknowledged Madrid’s problem wasn’t in defense. “It’s not a defensive problem, it is an offensive problem. We are not finding a way through like we did in the games before.”
Having been knocked out of the Copa del Rey and surrendered its domestic league lead to Barcelona, the 10-times European Champion is out to be the first team in 25 years to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
And the next step is to advance past the German team to the quarter finals.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday’s last-16 return leg:
One aspect that Ancelotti might try to improve is how balls won in defense are fed up to the attacking trio.
Key defender Sergio Ramos is now fit and could be incorporated into the squad to feed passes through to midfielders Sami Khedira and Luka Modric, who have both also returned to fitness. Modric had been sidelined for four months with a torn thigh muscle.
Toni Kroos acknowledges that playing in Madrid’s midfield is complex.
“Midfield is difficult nowadays,” said the German international. “You have to be versatile, be good on and off the ball. You have to defend well, build up the attack and be good at winning individual battles. These positions are hard to master.”
Shalke coach Roberto Di Matteo has also been able to welcome back a key player after a long period out recovering from muscle injury.
Leon Goretzka was a standout player for Schalke in the second half of last season, playing a vital role in the team’s qualification for Europe.
He came on in the 55th minute for his team’s 3-1 win against Hoffenheim on Saturday and now hopes to play at the Bernabeu.
“It is a special game for all of us,” he said, calling Madrid “a particular opponent.”
Last year Schalke met Madrid at the same stage in the competition and came away bruised by a 9-2 aggregate trouncing.
“Last season we made a great game until the last quarter of an hour,” he said of his last visit to the Bernabeu. “Now, let’s try to keep pace.”
Defender Christian Fuchs believes a comeback in Spain is not impossible.
“We travel now to Madrid in a positive frame of mind, no one will bet on us, so maybe there is a chance for us,” Fuchs said.
However important an 11th European title might be to Madrid, it also faces a challenging prospect in La Liga, where it must travel to Barcelona for a potentially decisive clash in 10 days.
Madrid has given up a comfortable four-point league lead and been knocked by a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao at the weekend after a 1-1 home draw against Villarreal the previous weekend, and a 2-1 round 17 loss at Valencia.
Ancelotti might opt to keep Ramos in reserve for the Camp Nou, ensuring there is less of a likelihood of a recurrence of the defender’s hamstring injury.