GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AFP) – Having routed Schalke on their last Gelsenkirchen visit, Real Madrid return to Germany for Wednesday’s Champions League last 16, first-leg, clash with Toni Kroos warning the Spanish giants against complacency.
Real ran riot at Schalke’s Veltins Arena at exactly the same stage of the competition last February when Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale each scored two goals in a 6-1 thrashing as part of a 9-2 aggregate victory.
It was Schalke’s heaviest European home defeat until the margin was matched when Chelsea drubbed the hosts 5-0 in Gelsenkirchen in the group stages last November.
Madrid have won only three of their 27 trips to Germany, but two of victories came last year when they smashed Schalke, then routed Bayern Munich 4-0 at home in the semi-final, second-leg.
Holders Real will arrive in Germany with a lengthy walking-wounded list with Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez, Sami Khedira and Fabio Coentrao all out injured.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Spanish league leaders are struggling for form after being hammered 4-0 at Atletico Madrid ten days ago and laboured to a 2-0 home win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
“You don’t win anything by going through the motions, that also goes for Real Madrid,” said their Germany midfielder Kroos.
“If we have two good days, we can go very far, but only then.”
Real defender Pepe is rated as doubtful as he recovers from a rib injury.
Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling with the patella tendon injury in his left knee that affected him towards the end of last season and at the World Cup.
The Ballon d’Or winner has not scored in the last three games and has come under-fire since being sent off last month in the narrow win at Cordoba.
He was heavily criticised for hosting his 30th birthday party hours after Real were thrashed by Atletico.
But attacking midfielder Isco says Real are at their best when under pressure.
“What’s great about this team is that it’s able to pick itself up from the tough situations,” said the 22-year-old who scored against Deportivo.
“I think that having been brought down to earth is going to do us good and now we’re going to move forward.
“Now we have to go to Germany, to a difficult ground, but we’re Real Madrid and we go for it.
“This week will be an important step for what’s ahead.”
Fourth-placed Schalke stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at mid-table Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
It was the Royal Blues first defeat in six league games, but nevertheless they are relishing the challenge
“We know we got swatted away last year and that Real Madrid is currently one of the best sides in the world, but teams like that are beatable,” insisted Schalke captain Benedikt Hoewedes.
Schalke will have Dutch goal-ace Klaas-Jan Huntelaar available after missing their last two Bundesliga matches with suspension.
Fabian Giefer could be set to return from injury after third-choice teenage shot-stopper Timon Wellenreuther has started the last two games with first-choice Ralf Faehrmann out with a knee injury.
Cameroon defender Joel Matip says Shalke must prove they learnt the lessons from last year’s Real debacle.
“You can always achieve something in football, we are looking forward to the game and we want to show that we learnt from the last year,” he said.
But one comment which could well come back to haunt Schalke came when board member Peter Peters bullishly stated: “form beats class” after the draw in Nyon.
In truth, Roberto di Matteo’s Royal Blues can not realistically stake a current claim to either.
“We won’t treat this as a jaunt and it should be our goal to do better than we did last time,” said director of sport Horst Heldt with a more realistic appraisal.