The lowly Schalke 04 were runners-up to the Bundesliga last season, but are ninth in the table now, with only the German cup to play for. It seems as if Schalke are playing out of their skins and find themselves in the semi-finals of the greatest club competition in the world: The UEFA Champions League.
After beating Valencia en-route to Inter Milan, the 2010 treble winners and current Champions League holders, few would have predicted Schalke, led by new signing Raúl Gonzalez, would dismantle Inter Milan so easily.
They recorded a 5-2 win in the first leg and a 2-1 win in the second in which Raúl stormed past Inzaghi as Europe's record goalscorer and hasn't looked back since. Raúl, 33, left Madrid to join Schalke 04 this season, but few would predict he would score five goals in the competition this season.
Raúl has history with each of the other three teams, scoring twice against Manchester United in the first leg of their tie against Real Madrid in 2003, and of course being Real Madrid's former captain and club legend for 16 years. It's in the script for the legend to return against Madrid.
Defeating Manchester United is no easy task, especially now that they look to complete with another historic team. However, with United having rough patches from time to time and Schalke 04 with nothing to lose, led by a seemingly rejuvenated Raúl, anything can happen.
Surely Sir Alex Ferguson, who once said he admired "big players like Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo, but I think the best player in the world is Raul,” will leave nothing to chance.
Inevitably being at Real for so long, he has had many clashes against Madrid's great rivals FC Barcelona over the years. Raúl will know what to expect from the winners of the Madrid vs. Barca, or a tie at the very least, and may even get to show his Real Madrid roots by beating Barcelona in the final at Wembley with a Raul goal, or break millions of Real Madrid fans' hearts by beating Real in the final. This is all up to speculation, however, and only “what if?” questions can be asked at this stage.
All that can be said now is that Raúl is making this Champions League campaign his own, and may very well add another winner's medal to his collection. But Schalke needs to be ready to take on Manchester United, possibly the greatest team of the last 20 years, to set up a final against either nine-time Champions League winners Real Madrid, or FC Barcelona, with whom a squad boasting Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Villa will be tough for any team to overcome.
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