Real Madrid travel to Germany in good heart for Wednesday’s Champions League round of 16 first leg at Schalke after a remarkable turnaround in the Spanish Liga.
Shock defeats for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid last weekend left Real three points clear atop La Liga rankings, and in perfect shape for the clash in Gelsenkirchen.
The Los Blancos have no injuries, and world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo will be raring to go after serving a controversial three-match domestic ban.
In addition, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric are fresh having been rested for Saturday’s 3—0 home defeat of Elche.
“The Champions League is a very special competition for us,” said defender Raphael Varane on Sunday.
“We have a lot of hope placed in the Champions (League), we are looking forward to the match,” said the young French international.
Varane will almost certainly be on the subs’ bench because the Ramos-Pepe partnership is working very well.
Another youngster, midfielder Asier Illarramendi, added: “Now the hard part of the season is starting and the team is ready for it. We want to do well in the Champions (League) and go as far as possible.” Reminded about Real’s poor record in Germany — they have been eliminated by German teams in the semifinals in the last two seasons — the Basque midfielder replied: “Well, now is the time to change the story.”
Schalke hope to follow in the footsteps of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, who knocked out Real in the last two seasons, by winning the first leg at home.
“The whole club’s looking forward to this game — the players, the coach, the staff and the fans,” Julian Draxler told the Bundesliga website. “It’s going to be a highlight and we’ve got nothing to lose.
“Real Madrid are an absolutely world class side and of course we’re the rank outsiders, but we’ve got the chance to show how motivated we are to play in the Champions League.”
Draxler returned from injury with a substitute appearance against Mainz last Friday, but may not yet be fit enough to earning a starting spot against Real.
Regardless of who is picked, Schalke are aware nothing less than their best performance will be enough to secure a positive result.
“We’re going to have to have a perfect day to be able to cope with Real. That means everything from maintaining fighting mentality right through to a bit of luck and quality. Everything’s got to be spot on,” said Draxler.
Schalke are optimistic that Benedikt Hoewedes and Christian Fuchs can return from injuries but Japanese defender Atsuto Achida misses out.
Sven Bender to miss out for Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund were humbled 3—0 at SV Hamburg on Saturday and look to bounce back when facing Zenit St Petersburg in Russia on Tuesday.
“We all need to question our attitude. There are games like this, and it’s always difficult to find an explanation,” said defender Manuel Friedrich.
“Our mood and attitude for the game on Tuesday will not be affected by this defeat. It was a one-off. If we play to our potential, then we can beat any team,” he added.
Sven Bender was injured in that loss and could be out for around 10 weeks, but Marco Reus should be able to start having returned from his own injury via the bench in Hamburg.
United’s defence woes
Manchester United manager David Moyes has doubts over three defenders — Phil Jones, Rafael and Jonny Evans — as he prepares to travel to Greece to face Olympiakos on Tuesday.
The trio missed the weekend win over Crystal Palace but Moyes is hopeful at least one of them will be fit.
Chelsea head for Galatasaray
Chelsea must decide between forwards Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba for their Wednesday visit to Galatasaray.
The Premier League leaders will face their former striker, Didier Drogba, and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he knows what to expect.
“He’s still good, still a threat,” Mourinho said.