A repeat of last years matchup at the same stage, Madrid came in and drubbed Schalke 6-1 in the first leg finishing with a 9-2 win on aggregate. Things are a little different this year, though, and while the title-holders are still favorites, their injury woes and Schalke’s turnaround since October make this an interesting tie to watch.
This past October, Roberto Di Matteo (previously of the 2012 Champions League winners Chelsea) took over at Schalke and found his team in 11th place. Since, they have risen to 3rd, and are fighting in the Bundesliga to retain a spot in this tournament for next year.
Striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is currently serving a four-game suspension in the domestic league, but will be available for this match assuming his flu-like symptoms have subsided. Huntelaar leads their attack along with Eric Choupo-Moting, the 25 year-old Cameroon international. The two have partnered to lead a potent offense that relies on wings sweeping past defenders before centering.
Schalke like to score from set piece, and regularly concede more shots than they take. They average a mere 48% possession, often giving the ball up in vulnerable places to lead their opponents to chances. They like to attack through their wings, equally distributing the ball to both sides of the pitch.
Real Madrid are the reigning champs, and are once again favorites to take home the trophy. They currently lead La Liga by one point, but have proven to be beatable, having suffered a stunning 4-0 loss to Athletico Madrid just weeks ago.
The main concern for Madrid is injury. Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, and James Rodriguez will all miss the tie, while Pepe returns and could play a role off the bench.
Ronaldo has been ruled fit, but many have questioned his true fitness after he has not scored in his last three outings. In his place, Benzema and Isco have played beautifully, and kept Madrid moving forward in attack.
Outshooting opponents by an average of 18-12, Madrid is a very potent offensive team. They average 58% of possession, but are much more direct than most teams who have such a high possession rate. Generally, their attack flows through the left side – where Ronaldo roams and facilitates for a host of sharp-shooters or finishes himself.
Unfortunately, injuries play a huge role in this matchup. Both teams will be missing some of their key players, and the winner will be the team that can most effectively mold their team to fit the squad they present.
Both teams will need to overlook their matchup from last year. While Schalke will be looking to move on, Madrid must realize that the world is studying the blueprint on how to beat them as presented by Athletico so they must shore up their deficiencies.
A repeat of last year seems very unlikely, especially with so many injuries. That being said, Schalke’s improvement this past 6 months is not quite enough to warrant a win over the reigning champs, and Madrid are strong favorites to advance.
I expect a Madrid win in both stadia, with an aggregate total of 4-2.