The defending champions were the only team to walk away with a decisive result out of the first eight participants in the UEFA Champions League round of 16. Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory on the road over Schalke seemed inevitable from the beginning, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s 26th-minute goal put the visitors ahead 1-0 early in Gelsenkirchen and Marcelo’s late addition gave the cup holders two away goals and left them essentially locked in to the quarterfinals.
For Schalke, the match was bad not merely from the standpoint of the scoreboard. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, their primary finisher up top, was injured less than 10 minutes after Ronaldo opened the scoring, and it further disjointed an attack that was having little success. His replacement, Felix Platte, nearly had the equalizer when he pinged his right-footed attempt off the crossbar above Iker Casillas in the 74th minute. Five minutes later, Marcelo’s curling strike ended German hopes of a surprise finish.
Schalke certainly had their chances in the match. While Real Madrid generated three more scoring chances, the hosts nevertheless took eight shots and forced Casillas into making three saves. The Germans are certainly capable of creating offense, but against Real Madrid on Wednesday they couldn’t finish. Part of the issue was shot selection; all but one of their attempts came from outside the 18-yard box, while Real consistently created closer looks that afforded a greater probability of success.
It all adds up to a Sisyphean task for Schalke, who now have to try to score three or more away goals and win by two or more to secure passage to the next round. Against most teams this would be a tall order; against the defending European champions, a club that hordes talented players and consistently dominates year after year, there is no rational scenario that has Schalke going through.
Real will hope that Ronaldo’s header off Dani Carvajal’s cross will snap him out of the funk that saw him go scoreless for three straight games. The team continues to integrate more high-octane parts into the roster, making it even less likely that Schalke can reverse their deficit. Roberto Di Matteo showed nothing in his gameplan at home that would indicate he can outcoach Carlo Ancelotti in the match at the Bernabeu on March 10.
Even were Di Matteo more renowned as a tactician, he simply does not have the level of talent to utilize that Ancelotti can call upon. Beyond Ronaldo, the multifaceted Real attack also features Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale up top. In the midfield, players like Toni Kroos and Isco make things even more difficult for opposition like Schalke. And that configuration doesn’t account for stars like James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, and Luka Modric, who were all prevented by injuries from taking the pitch in the first leg.
A blitz of goals is going to prove to be the Germans’ demise when they arrive in the Spanish capital. Look for Ronaldo to notch yet another Champions League goal to add to his ballooning career tally, another one of Real’s strikers to grab another, and possibly a third coming from one of the midfielders or off a set piece. In the end Real will advance with a 5-0 aggregate score for the fifth straight season. (At least it will be better than the 9-2 aggregate that Real put on Schalke last year.)