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Madrid have poor record in Germany ahead of Schalke

Feb 25,2014 - Last updated at Feb 25,2014

FRANKFURT, Germany — Real Madrid ride a big wave into Schalke for their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday having just shot to the top of the Spanish League for the first time since 2012.

Madrid are unbeaten in 26 games, their best run since 1988-89 when they went a record 34 games unbeaten. Schalke are riding a more modest unbeaten run of seven matches, and failed to win at home against Mainz on Friday in the Bundesliga.

Ronaldo returns  

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Real Madrid’s lineup after sitting out a three-match suspension in the Spanish League. The world player of the year has nine goals in the Champions League, only one behind tournament leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain. 

While his absence in the domestic league did not hurt, Ronaldo’s Champions League experience could be crucial in an away game, where goals take on special importance. Real’s 20 goals in the group stage led the competition.

Madrid’s woeful record in Germany  

Real Madrid have won only once in 25 previous visits to German opposition, losing 18 times, including a 4-1 defeat at Borussia Dortmund in last season’s semifinal first leg which set up a 4-3 aggregate defeat. The only victory was a 3-2 success at Bayer Leverkusen in 2000-01. Coach Carlo Ancelotti won the title four times as player and coach.

Schalke defiant 

Schalke coach Jens Keller believes the odds are stacked firmly against his team being able to knock out Real Madrid. “We’ll need a little miracle,” Keller said. “It’ll be difficult but we’re not going into it to exchange jerseys.” 

Midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng said Schalke can go into the match with confidence despite the tepid 0-0 draw with Mainz, and goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann adds: “Borussia Dortmund showed that Real also are beatable.”

More goals for Gareth 

For Ancelotti, there is no secret to getting Gareth Bale going. He needs goals. Bale scored a memorable long-range screamer in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Elche, a goal that perhaps only teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are capable of. 

Ancelotti was clear the Welshman needed to score more of them. 

“There is no uncertainty in analysing Bale’s game: He had no confidence before that incredible goal and after it, he played an entirely different game,” Ancelotti said. “That goal will help his confidence. 

He played well enough before the goal but fantastic afterward.” Another newcomer this season, Asier Illaramendi, is also finding his feet after a rocky start since his move from Real Sociedad, with the young player often having to wait to fill in for Xabi Alonso. 

“I don’t know how he hits the ball but he makes it do incredible things,” Ancelotti said after the holding midfielder also scored against Elche. “He’s a great player and he’s showing it.”

Defence wins 

Madrid’s defence has played a pivotal role in its unbeaten run. It has allowed 16 goals over the run, and just three times in its last 14 matches. To appease his two goalies, Ancelotti has Iker Casillas starting in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, and Diego Lopez in La Liga. 

The move has worked out great. Casillas, the Spain captain, has helped Madrid make the Copa del Rey final without conceding a goal. Centre backs Sergio Ramos and Pepe have been steady and France international Raphael Varane has also returned strongly from a knee injury. 

“I’m getting better and finding my form little by little,” Varane said. “We’re defending very well and we can still improve. We’re communicating well and playing with intensity. The team is in great form.” 

Ancelotti also has ample choice at both fullback positions, with Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao available on the left side and Alvaro Arbeloa and Dani Carvajal sharing duties on the right.

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