Tactical Battles That Will Shape Schalke's Clash with Real Madrid

Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2014

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The Champions League returns to Germany this week as Schalke welcome Real Madrid to the Veltins-Arena on Wednesday in a showdown that should push the Royal Blues to their limit against one of Europe's biggest and most experienced clubs. 

The Gelsenkirchen side has actually been on a run of decent form lately, with four wins in its last five domestic games, yet its return to continental competition could prove too much against the might of its Spanish foe.

If Jens Keller's side wants to take anything from this tie, it'll need to dig deep and make sure it wins the vital tactical battles. 


Julian Draxler v Alvaro Arbeloa

For Schalke, the main aspect of their attacking threat against Madrid will come from their 20-year-old prodigy, Julian Draxler. 

Although Draxler hasn't had the best time of things throughout this current campaign, with a number of injuries limiting his impact in the first team, he is still without doubt one of the club's strongest players in the Champions League this season. 

Paul White/Associated Press

Draxler has amassed an impressive three goals and one assist in just six games, with performances such as the winning goal away to Basel and the goal and assist he created against Steaua Bucharest offering particular examples of what he can do on this brightest of stages. 

Whom Madrid have to deal with the young star is Alvaro Arbeloa, the former Liverpool defender, who has since cemented his spot in the Spanish side as its first-team right-back. Yet for Schalke, he is undoubtedly the weak link in this star-studded side and must be the gap that Draxler will have to push through if they hope to score. 

Through stats provided by Squawka, we can see that the Spanish defender has on average only been successful on 41 percent of his tackles this season and often creates just as many fouls as he draws. As such, Arbeloa is a defender who is vulnerable to a quicker, more skillful player taking him to task on the wing. This will be Draxler's key priority when the two sides meet. 


Kevin-Prince Boateng v Xabi Alonso

In the middle of the park we have the interesting battle between Schalke's most advanced central midfielder, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Madrid's most reserved central midfielder, Xabi Alonso. 

In this matchup, we have the prospect of an enticing affair that could in fact turn the tide on which side goes on to eventually win the battle in the middle of the pitch and potentially then go on to win the game. 

Boateng arrived in Gelsenkirchen last summer from Milan, and since walking into the Bundesliga side, the Ghanaian has scored six goals and created 16 chances in just 17 games for Schalke, according to Squawka. Despite playing as a box-to-box midfielder, this player offers a serious punch in the final third of any opposition's half.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Yet along with his technical ability and outstanding pace, Boateng also offers a physicality that can often see him disrupt defences with a style of play that often sees him prey on sitting midfielders, such as Madrid's Alonso. 

The Spanish player isn't actually a defensive midfielder, but in a 4-3-3 system in which he often finds himself alongside more attacking players such as Angel di Maria and Asier Illarramendi, he does tend to be the holding player. With an average of four defensive actions per game, the responsibility to protect Madrid's back four clearly rests on his shoulders. 

If Schalke can convince Boateng to sit on Alonso for the duration of the game and thwart him from controlling Madrid's pace on the ball, it could dramatically affect how the Spanish side builds its attacks toward the German side's own box.


Joel Matip v Cristiano Ronaldo

Aside from what Schalke can do to hurt Madrid, it's worth taking a look at one of the many ways in which the Spanish side can punish its German opponents. 

Madrid have a whole host of attacking prospects, such as the aforementioned di Maria as well as Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, but no one comes close to the exceptional talent of Cristiano Ronaldo. 

The Portuguese superstar has scored an incredible nine goals and created 11 chances in just five games in the Champions League this season, via Squawka, and for Schalke, their prospects of coming out of this game alive depend entirely on closing him down effectively. 

For such a task, the German side will have to rely upon Joel Matip in central defence, yet what could offer some hope is the manner in which the Cameroonian has fared this season.

According to Squawka, the central defender has managed nine average defensive actions per game, more than any other player at the club, and kept up an impressive record of winning 65 percent of headed challenges and 70 percent of take-ons. He is a strong defender in the air and competent when asked to handle players who enjoy dribbling past opponents.