In a repeat of last yeara s round of 16 clash, holders Real Madrid take on German side Schalke 04 as the two look to book their spot in the quarterfinal of the biggest club competition in the world. Last year, of course, Madrid were by far the superior team, registering a thumping 9-2 aggregate win. While Madrid will once more come into the tie as the overwhelming favourites, one cannot count out Schalke who are currently the fourth on the Bundesliga table.
Six of the nine goals that Schalke conceded to Madrid last year were at home. It was an absolute mauling handed over by the would be champions who looked unstoppable at the stage. The bad news for Schalke is that the team has only gotten better since and have played some scintillating football.
The German team will, hence, do well to keep it tight and not leak any goals. Schalke, however, dona t do that too often and have conceded as many as 23 goals in the Bundesliga, averaging more than a goal a match.
Over the last few games, Roberto Di Matteo, who was appointed earlier in the season, has chosen to employ a 3-5-2 system, making full use of new signing Matija Nastasic. The former Manchester City man has formed a solid partnership with Benedikt Howedes and Joel Matip.
Di Matteo is having to contend with a long injury list that includes star player Julian Draxler Ralf Fahrmann, Jefferson Farfan, Sead Kolasinac, Leon Goretzka and Chinedu Obasi. Di Matteo will be hoping that star striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar can find his scoring boots against his former team today.
Predicted Line-up (3-5-2): Wellenreuther, Howedes, Matip, Nastasic, Uchida, Fuchs, Kirchoff, Hoger Barnetta, Moting, Huntelaar.
Though, Madrid have suffered some shocks in recent weeks such as the 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid just 11 days ago, the team still remains one of the favourites to retain the title. Of course, winning the title will make Madrid the only team to retain the trophy since the Champions League format was introduced.
What makes this Madrid team stand apart is the fact that it can score from many different situations and positions. While on one hand, Madrid love to keep the ball and break an opposition down, they can, at the same time, they can use the counter attack to full effect. With players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at Ancelottia s disposal, the Italian can chose to play on the counter and concede possession without a worry in the world.
Furthermore, this team has the ability to score from set pieces as several players in this team are brilliant in the air.
At the moment, Madrid are leading the La Liga with 57 points after 23 games. Ballon da Or winner Ronaldo has been in sensational form, scoring 38 goals and assisting 11 others in just 31 games this season. Last year, when these two sides met, Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema all added two goals apiece, in that 6-1 win.
Summer signing Tony Kroos will be keen to make an impression upon his return to Germany. He is likely to be partnered by Asier Illaramendi and Isco in a three man midfield. Behind the midfield, Madrid will miss Sergio Ramos and will instead have to rely on Frenchman Raphael Varane and Pepe.
Madrida s full backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo are expected to bomb forward, exploiting the gaps that can emerge if the opposition is playing a three at the back formation.
Predicted Line-up (4-3-3): Casillas, Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo, Kroos, Illaramendi, Isco, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Player to watch out for
The Ballon da Or winer has been nothing short of phenomenal over the course of the season and will be looking to make his mark on the knockout stages of this yeara s Champions League. In last yeara s edition of the event, Ronaldo scored in eight consecutive games for Real Madrid, firing his team into the semi-finals.
Schalke 1-3 Real Madrid
Much like last year, Madrid look far stronger than Schalke who may have a new manager but just hasna t been able to produce the goods this year. Di Matteo has instilled a belief in the players, but belief and passion alone will not be enough for Schalke to get something out of this game.
Madrid are likely to dominate the game, but will need to careful as when they start committing too many men forward, they tend to concede.