Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
March 18, 2014; 19:45 BST
Real Madrid host Schalke in the second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabéu tonight. The Spanish side already have an unassailable lead heading into this game as they thrashed Schalke 1-6 in the first leg in Germany.
With the El Clasico looming large on the horizon, Carlo Ancelotti insisted that this will be the perfect practice for this side in build-up to that game. Schalke on the other hand have nothing but proverbial pride to play for in this match and Jens Keller will hope for a better performance from his side this time around.
Real Madrid currently lead the La Liga table with a three points advantage over Atletico Madrid and they maintained this lead with a 0-1 win over Malaga at the weekend as Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner. Schalke on the other hand are coming into this game on the back of a hard fought 1-2 win over Augsburg, which reduced the gap between them and Borussia Dortmund to just one point. They have wonderful opportunity to finish second in the league this season, although their European journey should end tonight in Spain.
Team news and tactics
Carlo Ancelotti is still without Sami Khedira and Alvaro Arbeloa, who picked up an injury during Real Madrid’s match against Atletico Madrid. Karim Benzema was the latest addition to this list after the Frenchman was substituted with a thigh injury in the first of the match against Malaga and Ancelotti has confirmed his unavailability for this game, although he is expected to recover in time for the El Clasico.
With the highly anticipated El Clasico looming large over the horizon, Ancelotti would look to rest some of his key players in this fixture after attaining an unassailable lead in the first leg away from home. He is expected to make as many as seven changes to the starting eleven he fielded against Malaga.
Iker Casillas will return to goal for his European duty, while Nacho will replace Daniel Carvajal at right back. Sergio Ramos will return to the center of the defence alongside Raphael Varane as Pepe drops down the bench. Fabio Coentrao is likely to make his first start in the Champions League this season for Real Madrid as he replaces Marcelo in a completely changed defence.
Asier Illarramendi will make his first start since the 3-0 win over Elche back in February as Xabi Alonso is rested for this game. In attack, Alvaro Morata will replace the injured Benzema, while Jese starts on the right replacing Gareth Bale. Ancelotti has confirmed in his pre-match press conference that Cristiano Ronaldo will start in this game as he believes that this will be ideal preparation for this side for the upcoming clash against Barcelona.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Casillas (GK); Nacho, Ramos, Varane, Coentrao; Isco, Illarramendi, Modric; Jese, Morata, Ronaldo
Unlike Carlo Ancelotti, Jens Keller has a long injury list to contain with currently and this fixture couldn’t have arrived at a wrong time given what happened in the first leg in Germany. Schalke are still without Marco Hoger, Dennis Aogo, Christian Clemens, Jan Kirchhoff and Christian Fuchs due to injuries.
The good news though for Schalke is the possible return of Atsuto Uchida, who last appearance was in the 2-0 win over Hannover last month, although it seems unlikely that Keller will risk him straight away with nothing really there to play for in this game. There are also doubts about the fitness of Jefferson Farfan, who picked up an injury in the 5-0 loss against Bayern Munich earlier this month and his absence will be a big blow for them. Former Real Madrid striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored a brace in the last game to provide Schalke with a crucial win, is also a doubt for this game with a calf strain and Keller might not want to risk him in this match.
Keller is expected to make three changes to the starting line-up he fielded against Augsburg at the weekend. Felipe Santana will return to the center of the defence in place of Tim Hoogland, who didn’t have a good game. Santana’s return means Benedikt Howedes will move to the right back role, where he will look to contain Ronaldo.
Max Meyer, who came on as a substitute in the second half against Augsburg, will replace Leon Goretzka in attack as Julian Draxler moves back to his role out wide on the left. Huntelaar’s potential absence means 26-year-old striker Adam Szalai will get a rare start upfront. This will be his first start since 0-0 draw against Nurnberg in December last year.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Fahrmann (GK); Howedes, Matip, Santana, Kolasinac; Boateng, Neustadter; Obasi, Meyer, Draxler; Szalai
Players to watch-out for: Jese (Real Madrid); Julian Draxler (Schalke)
Prediction: Real Madrid 3-0 Schalke