Real Madrid expect return to top form against Schalke
Holders Real Madrid do not expect another goal bonanza at Schalke 04 in Wednesday`s Champions League Round of 16 first leg after their big win last season, with midfielder Toni Kroos warning not to underestimate the Germans.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti will be hoping his normally formidable attacking trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, known collectively in Spain as `BBC`, return to top form in time for the trip to Germany.
The trio each scored twice in the 6-1 victory at Schalke in last term’s Round of 16 first leg but Ronaldo, in particular, has been off colour since winning a third FIFA Ballon d’Or award last month.
The Portugal captain again failed to score in Saturday’s unconvincing 2-0 win at home to promoted Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga and has managed only four goals this year.
In that time, Real have been knocked out of the King’s Cup by Atletico Madrid while a 4-0 drubbing at their city rivals in La Liga this month cut their lead over second-placed Barcelona to a point.
"We are top of La Liga and the reigning champions in Europe," Ancelloti said on Saturday. "It`s true that we have not been brilliant in 2015, but I hope the return of the Champions League will bring out the best in us again."
Another reason for Real’s stumble has been injuries to regular centre backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos.
Pepe should be available but Ramos is not due to return for about a month and their replacements, Raphael Varane and Nacho, have looked far from convincing.
"What was important was picking up confidence, and now we have to focus on Schalke. This win (Deportivo) is really good for our morale," Real fullback Alvaro Arbeloa said.
Improving Schalke, fourth in the Bundesliga, are desperate to make amends for last season`s drubbing and hope Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who missed training last week with a virus, will be fit.
"He is an ice cold striker and I am happy if we have him as an option against Real," team mate Tranquillo Barnetta told reporters.
"We have nothing to lose. If we continue to play as we have done recently and stick to our plan then we have the chance to win against Real. Our aim is to win at home and we firmly believe that," said the Swiss international.
Coach Robert Di Matteo will need to see whether keeper Fabian Giefer recovers from injury in time or else hand 19-year-old Timon Wellenreuther his Champions League debut.