The 2013 Ballon d'Or winner returns after spending three matches on the sideline through suspension. Los Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti confirms his star man is "highly motivated" after watching his teammates romp to the La Liga summit, as reported by the Agence France-Presse (via the South China Morning Post):
"He's really wanted to play, he was not happy about not being able to do so," said Ancelotti. "He's done very well in training. He is in optimal physical and mental shape."
Ronaldo's frustration at missing out signals an ominous warning sign for Schalke, which must halt the prolific forward at the Veltins-Arena if they are to have any chance of progressing across two legs.
Real have not lost in 26 fixtures across all competitions—a run stretching back to the El Clasico defeat on Oct. 26—racking up 22 wins in this time, per WhoScored.com.
While Gareth Bale has settled in extremely well, it's Ronaldo who continues to dominate proceedings for the talent-filled club. The Portuguese star has scored 31 goals and provided eight assists in 26 appearances this season.
Ronaldo has netted in each of the five European matches he has featured in this season, racking up nine goals throughout the competition. Schalke scored just six in six games throughout the group process, highlighting the relentless efficiency of a player who can win any match with a moment of magic.
Even so, Madrid's record in Germany is hapless.
As reported by Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC, the Spanish side must battle a demon that continues to nip away at Real's success when they step foot into German territory:
Madrid have just one win from 25 previous visits to Germany in European competition, and were beaten 4-1 at Borussia Dortmund on their most recent visit in last year’s Champions League semifinal first leg. Fans and media in the Spanish capital are well aware of the ‘curse’, and AS devoted its cover on Wednesday morning to the issue - going with a headline of 'Cristiano against the German Ogre'.
Spanish paper Marca also went with the ogre theme, suggesting Schalke may need a little intervention if they are to halt Ronaldo's quest for goals in Gelsenkirchen, as tweeted by Bleacher Report UK:
Jens Keller and his team will be hoping a little time away from the intensity of first-team football has slowed Ronaldo down, but this seems extremely unlikely. The physically fit player is clearly ready to go, and if Ancelotti's quotes are to be taken seriously, he remains in peak condition after a few weeks away.
Should Ronaldo immediately burst through the gears, the prospect of away goals could end this tie before it even reaches the Bernabeu.