If FC Schalke 04 was able to recover from a 2-0 deficit at Real Madrid CF on Tuesday, not only would it make history but it would be considered a near miracle, since Real Madrid has a chokehold on the German side. Schalke coach Roberto Di Matteo still feels he has a chance to beat the odds.
What’s the precedent? He led Chelsea FC to a surprise championship victory in 2012 in Germany. This year, in first leg, despite the wildly supportive crowd in Gelsenkirchen, they could not overcome Real Madrid’s tidal wave of offense, but final score was a vast improvement on their 6-1 loss to them a year ago. But the Italian knows he is taking his side to the Santiago Bernabeu fully aware that they are huge underdogs to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals.
Di Matteo, who took over in Gelsenkirchen in October last year, told media that his side will need to have a “perfect day” if they are to get any chance of creating a Champions League upset on Tuesday. “To be able to compete against a team like this, our team has to have a perfect day and hope that Real Madrid are not at their best. We have a good side. The players are all very willing and ready to develop further and improve day in, day out. That is very important, that they push themselves to their limits. Then we can get a positive result.”
The chances that Real Madrid are really off their game are slim ones. But Di Matteo, who won the tournament coaching Chelsea will try to draw on that experience against Carlo Ancelotti’s men. He said, “I don’t know how much it helps my team, but for me personally that experience has helped me prepare the team.” Prepared they will have to be, as they sharpen their knives against a Real Madrid team who has recently not been as brilliant as their reputation. The star-studded team has dropped 11 La Liga points in 2015 and currently they are no longer at the top of the Spanish league. Real Madrid, is also going to play without injured Sergio Ramos (hamstring), Luka Modric (thigh) and James Rodriguez (toe).
For Schalke, it may be the best time ever to play Real. Ancelotti has come under severe scrutiny in recent months for underperforming dramatically as Real’s stars aren’t lighting up the Spanish capital as expected, so tensions should run high in Tuesday’s matchup. He told media that his team has lost its confidence, and that the team’s attacking play was “confusing” and needed a change. Hopefully he can make those changes take effect before game time as a lot is riding on this team’s shoulders to cruise pass the German side. Real Madrid is unbeaten in 21 Champions League games at the Santiago Bernabeu, dating back to April 2011. So now is not the time to break that record. Despite Real’s attacking trio failing to launch and fire on all cylinders since the new year, the coach added, “I have total confidence in BBC [Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo],” and that they would start 100%.
This is the perfect opportunity for the trio to get their game back, if they advance, they will surely meet tougher competition and their star players have to play like stars to win.
Schalke has also had it’s own struggles in failing to to find the back of the net in the first leg, and since the Bundesliga’s restart. But they might be able to build from a spark ignited in their last win against Hoffenheim – started by teenager Max Meyer who scored twice. This could set Di Matteo’s side on fire and overcome the aggregate to take the victory. It would come against great odds however, and the German side is aware of the uphill battle that awaits them at Santiago Bernabeu. To add to that difficulty, Schalke will be without Kevin Prince-Boateng for the Tuesday night game, missing due to suspension. But Shalke coach Roberto Di Matteo does get to welcome back a key player after a long recovery from muscle injury. Leon Goretzka is a standout player for them, who played a vital role in the team’s qualification for Europe. Back in play he came on in the 55th minute for his team’s 3-1 win against Hoffenheim on Saturday and now hopes to score at the Bernabeu.
Schalke’s commercial manager Horst Heldt told reporters, ahead of the team’s departure to Madrd, “We want to put on a good showing in Madrid, but most of all we have to win the game, and turn around the two goal deficit.” Never counting themselves out, the chance is there but highly doubtful Real will concede such a huge defeat at home.
Our Pick: Real Madrid over Schalke 1-0