"That was the perfect game," were the parting shots that came from Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, via UEFA.com, as he rubbed the salt into Schalke's fatal wound. The Spanish giants had just beaten the Royal Blues by six goals to one in the heart of West Germany, leaving fans and spectators alike speechless.
Of course, Madrid have the capacity to do this from time to time. The stars line up, the elements fall into place and any given group of superstars that just so happen to be playing for the Capital side decide to click and punish opponents in the competition they still claim as their own.
Yet this was all a little different. For as wonderful as Cristiano Ronaldo and company all were, Schalke were worse. Although this proud Bundesliga side may have been on a stroke of good fortune in their domestic form, the Champions League has once again proved all too impossible.
In any 6-1 defeat, the criticism from fans and the media alike is often unfairly thrown at the defence for what they effectively allowed their side to become—a laughing stock. Yet in the case of this Schalke side, we must truly take a long, hard look at this back line and distinguish whether or not they are good enough for a club of this size.
The most notable problem is, of course, Felipe Santana. Despite only being 27 years old, the Brazilian centre-back already looks past his prime—until we remember that he was never a great defender to begin with.
From Dortmund's reserves came what has become a regular starter for their bitter rivals in Gelsenkirchen, and we were reminded on Wednesday just why Jurgen Klopp's side allowed him to leave, despite only having two other centre-backs at the club.
Fingers will be pointed at all corners of this team after such a performance, but none will be more justified than the ones pointed at Santana and—perhaps more importantly—the people who thought he'd make a smart signing for this club.
Yet when we look beyond Santana, there isn't much hope elsewhere.
Benedikt Howedes offers some respite from the mess this club has becom,e and 20-year-old Sead Kolasinac offers hope for the future. But when your roster of defensive options amounts to no more than Dennis Aogo, Christian Fuchs or the aforementioned Brazilian centre-back, you have to own up and accept that this club will inevitably ship goals.
Of course the midfield was just as poor.
Julian Draxler, the proclaimed prodigy that was supposed to bridge the gap between this side and their near city rival Dortmund, was nowhere to be found as he spent another game shipped out on the wing.
While Max Meyer justifiably looked out of his depth—as any 18-year-old would at this level—and Kevin Prince Boateng looked at odds with his defensive midfield role.
From top to bottom, this midfield looked out of place and uninformed as to what it was supposed to be doing. As Dortmund and Bayern Munich do so well to look like one unit from defence to attack, Schalke's midfielders embodied a gang of mercenaries invited to a trap. Madrid kindly picked them off time and time again, like any well-disciplined side would.
Yet it isn't just individual mistakes or poor defending or inexperienced youth that crippled this side tonight. No, there's more to it than that.
In fact, when we look through Schalke's record against "big teams" over the course of the season thus far, a particular pattern becomes all too obvious: They just can't beat good sides.
Bayer Leverkusen aside, Schalke have only picked up three points against all of the other five teams in the top six of the Bundesliga this season. Wolfsburg beat them on the second week of the new season, then Bayern Munich put four past them, then Dortmund strolled to a win at the Veltins-Arena and then, of course, Gladbach squeezed out a 2-1 win just before the winter break.
Yet the lack of preparation against such sides doesn't end there. In the group stages of this season's Champions League, Schalke played Chelsea twice in the space of two weeks and kindly obliged as the London club put six goals past them to no response.
Such poor form against better teams screams out a lack of tactical understanding and a general mismatch as to whether or not the side can actually be organised effectively.
This comes down to coach Jens Keller, the caretaker-turned-hero of Gelsenkirchen, who has been stumbling along on the throne of this Royal Blue kingdom for too long with little success or progress to show for his troubles.
It's this man that must surely take the brunt of the blame for any inability his side showed tonight. Forget the excellence of Ronaldo or the sheer quality of Gareth Bale; this massacre was a simple illustration of how a team look when they haven't been coached properly.
Via UEFA.com, Keller's excuse after tonight's game was that of his team being a "young side." Yet from what we saw, it would seem as though they are more undercoached than inexperienced at this stage of the game.
The manager then suggested that this team "still have lots to learn at this level," but one would suggest it was the other way around. This coach still has some distance to go before he can begin to call himself a Schalke success. And until then, this team will continue to lose as poorly as they did tonight whenever they reach this level.