GELSENKIRCHEN (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo ended a three-game goal drought as the holders beat hosts Schalke 04 2-0 on Wednesday to take a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals.
The world player of the year headed in after 26 minutes for his 73rd Champions League goal with Real’s first chance of the game and he set up Marcelo to make it seven wins for Real in seven Champions League games this season.
Real’s victory was nowhere near as emphatic as last season’s 6-1 romp at Schalke at the same stage of the competition but it was a much-needed confidence boost for Carlo Ancelotti’s team after a lacklustre start to the year in Spain.
Looking to become the first team to retain the Champions League title, Real, eliminated from the King’s Cup this month and crushed 4-0 by Atletico Madrid in La Liga, host Schalke in the second leg on March 10.
The Germans fielded five defenders and were on the back foot from the start but coach Robert Di Matteo’s disciplined 5-3-2 system proved effective.
First to the ball and working hard, Schalke gradually grew in confidence and a good effort from Dennis Aogo sailed just wide before a shot by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar required a full- stretch save from Iker Casillas.
But Ronaldo, left with far too much space in the box, put Real ahead, ending his mini lean spell with a glancing header from Daniel Carvajal’s cross to take his competition tally to 73, two short of the record held by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
Karim Benzema almost got a second but reserve keeper Timon Wellenreuther, making his competition debut, kept his cool to clear the ball.
The 19-year-old got the nod due to injuries to Fabian Giefer and Ralf Faehrmann and he did well to deny Ronaldo his second goal, parrying a curling free kick in the 34th.
Schalke’s game plan collapsed when Huntelaar, back in action despite serving a suspension in the Bundesliga for a red card, limped off with a leg injury.
But Real, who took their foot off the gas after the break, were almost punished by 19-year-old Felix Platte who replaced Huntelaar and struck a shot against the crossbar 15 minutes from time.
Brazilian Marcelo ended any lingering German hopes with a powerful shot 11 minutes from the end after good work from Ronaldo.