Mixed Results and Feelings for Real Madrid's Youngsters Against Schalke

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Jese of Real Madrid goes down under a heavy tackle from Sead Kolasinac of Schalke during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

This was an opportunity for some of the players on the fringe of the Real Madrid squad to show their worth. The match itself was always just a formality; a 6-1 away win does tend to do that in a two-leg tie.

Carlo Ancelotti made seven changes to the team that defeated Malaga last weekend, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Raphael Varane and Isco kept their places.

With such a numerical advantage and El Clasico approaching, it was to be expected. The more surprising selections were Nacho at right-back and Alvaro Morata as the sole striker.

Real Madrid laboured in the first half and gave the ball away unnecessarily. Perhaps they were psychologically affected by the early injury to winger Jese.

The Spanish U21 international has a "complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee," via Real Madrid's official website. He was removed from action after Schalke defender Sead Kolasinac landed on him inside just three minutes. It was a huge blow for the player that has been remarkable in his debut campaign.

His replacement, Gareth Bale, was certainly in the mood to entertain. He combined with Ronaldo for Madrid's opener. Tim Hoogland replied for Schalke 10 minutes later, and his shot from distance took a huge deflection off Sergio Ramos.

The German side had a number of chances to score more goals but were a little unfortunate with their finishing at times.

Two goals in two minutes settled the outcome, as if it was ever in doubt. Ronaldo's solo run and finish put Los Blancos ahead. Then, another Madrid break saw Ronaldo crash an effort off the crossbar, before Bale expertly set up Morata with the outside of his boot.

Morata took the opportunity, and there was a sense of relief displayed on his face for all to see. He had missed a sitter earlier in the game after Bale supplied him once more.

It was a difficult evening for Morata—he hasn't featured as often as he might have expected with the sale of Gonzalo Higuain. There were times when he seemed to get his feet in a muddle, and his link-up play didn't come off, but he kept plodding away and grew into the match.

There was clear frustration from Ronaldo on one occasion: a steel glare followed for Morata after a wasteful shot, when the Portuguese forward had made a diagonal run across him.

Elsewhere, Nacho also received a telling off by Xabi Alonso for not moving the ball swiftly enough. His recovery challenge on former Madrid striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was his game highlight.

Raphael Varane enhanced his reputation as the finest young centre-back in world football. The Frenchman didn't misplace a pass all evening, via FourFourTwo Stats Zone.

In midfield, Asier Illarramendi was tidy and effective in possession, while Casemiro was decent when he entered the field at half-time in place of Alonso.

Isco put in his strongest performance as part of a midfield three, after previously struggling to adapt to a deeper position. Work has been done on the defensive part of his game, with his invention and creativity on the ball more than evident.

With Karim Benzema currently doubtful for the encounter with Barcelona, per Inside Spanish Football, and Jese's injury, there could be an opening for either Isco or Morata. Isco has operated as a "false nine" previously, and his movement does enable space for Ronaldo and Bale to exploit.

For Morata to star,t it would be a huge boost for his Real Madrid career. The striker is short on confidence at present, and the responsibility of leading the line would give him a real sense of purpose within the squad.