Schalke's reward for reaching the knockout phase of the Champions League is a matchup against European superpower Real Madrid, a club currently atop La Liga's table and one that has advanced to the Champions League semifinals in three straight seasons.
Schalke have generally struggled against elite competition this season, losing both games to Chelsea in the Champions League group stage and going 0-2 thus far against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in Bundesliga play (though their supporters might point out they've beaten Bayer Leverkusen twice in league play, a team currently in second place).
Can Schalke hold serve in Germany and head back to Madrid with the advantage in this tie? Or will the deadly Los Blancos all but wrap things up with an away victory?
When: Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. ET
Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. GMT
Where: Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Watch: Fox Soccer Plus; Fox Soccer 2Go; Sky Sports 4 (U.K.)
So, how important is the Champions League for Real Madrid supporters, as the team looks to win its 10th European title in its history?
Very, very important, as manager Carlo Ancelotti noted to Dermot Corrigan of ESPN:
We want to play the final of the Champions League. Obsession? ‘La Decima’ is a word you can hear again and again; it is a big motivation for everyone.
We have worked for seven months to build a good solid base. We have built the house, now we have to decorate it. You cannot live in a house without anything inside, and we hope to decorate it well.
Real Madrid are also in a position to win the first treble—La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey titles in the same season—so there is plenty at stake for the team this season.
Schalke will have their hands full dealing with an attack that can roll out superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria, Isco and Jese Rodriguez, among others.
Of course, Schalke are no slouches. They'll counter Real Madrid's firepower with players like Julian Draxler, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
The German side might take solace from the fact that Real Madrid traditionally struggle in Germany, while Los Blancos will point to their recent form as an indication that they are about to exorcise those demons.
The Spanish giants travel to the Veltins Arena for the first-leg of their last 16 tie with Schalke having won just one of their previous 25 visits to German opposition, with their solitary victory coming against Bayer Leverkusen in 2000.
However, Carlo Ancelotti's in-form side should be confident going into the clash in Gelsenkirchen, having moved three points clear at the top of La Liga last weekend.
Ancelotti's charges have won 15 of their last 16 in all competitions, conceding just twice in their last five outings, and were also the leading scorers in the Champions League group stages.
So which will win out, the homefield advantage or talent and recent form?
Probably the latter. Real Madrid is not a team you want to face at the moment. Ronaldo has 37 goals in 35 games across all competitions for Los Blancos. Bale is starting to really settle in at Real Madrid, though when he's been healthy he's played well this season.
Heck, Real Madrid is so stacked and has played so well that one of the most talented young players in the world, Isco, doesn't always crack the starting 11.
Schalke will put up a fight, but even at home they are overmatched. Real Madrid win, 3-1.
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