Bayern Munich have progressed to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the spotlight is now on Schalke, who face Real Madrid on Tuesday night. But the odds are high against the Germans.
The Spaniards taught Schalke a humiliating lesson two weeks ago: 6-1 was the humiliating result, which makes progression to the next round all but impossible for the German team. So Wednesday’s match is above all a face-saving exercise.
"It’s a shame that our good season has been overshadowed by that 6-1 defeat," said team captain Benedikt Höwedes. "What’s really important for us now is to create a good impression at our final appearance in the tournament."
Schalke’s striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was thinking along the same lines: “In the last few years year we always managed quite well in the Champions League. In Madrid we now want to prove that we can do better than we did in the first leg.”
"We’re not going to Madrid for the fun of it," stressed Schalke’s manager Horst Heldt. Schalke wants to go out in style.
But coach Jens Keller may have to rest his top players Huntelaar and Kevin-Prince Boateng who have been plagued by injuries. With little to loose in Madrid on Tuesday, Keller may think it wise to concentrate on a good position in the Bundesliga, which is key to securing a ticket for next year’s European tournament.
"The thinking is that we may start without the players who have physical problems at the moment. It’s more important that the team presents itself well. This whole process is a great learning opportunity for our young players," Keller said in the press conference before the match.
Indeed they can learn a lot from their opponents around world footballer Cristiano Ronaldo: Madrid is top of the Spanish league and have not been beaten in 30 matches.
Madridcoach Carlo Ancelotti has also announced his intention to rest his players. "Several of our professionals are exhausted and need a break," the Italian coach said. "We will change the team on several positions."
But Jan-Klaas Huntelaar was quick to caution that even if Madrid would swap out its entire starting-eleven, this would not necessarily improve Schalke’s chances. "Real’s squad has incredible depth. Basically they have enough players for two top teams," he said.
And Huntelaar knows what he’s talking about. The Dutchman played in Madrid for half a year in 2009 and scored eight goals in his 20 appearances for Real. His advice to his teammates has been to enjoy the experience. "Not many players get the chance to play at Bernabeu stadium," he said, adding on an optimistic note:
"No one expects us to get to the next round tonight. But maybe we can manage to win, or at least clinch a draw."
Schalke's domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund will likely progress to the round of eight when they come up against Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday.
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