Real Madrid will kick-off the Champions League Round of 16 next Wednesday at Schalke 04's Veltins-Arena. The club's curse when playing in Germany will be at stake once again, though Real Madrid appeared to be favorites to advance to the Quarterfinals.
We organized this discussion around three simple questions:
A) What are your odds for this tie?(%) Why?
B) Other than CR7, which other Real Madrid player will be decisive against Schalke?
C) Which other opponent would you like to play against in the QFs? Why?
And here are the answers:
A) While I believe Real Madrid are favorites to advance to the QFs, it bears repeating that Los Blancos have a spotty record when it comes to defeating German teams in the Champions League. Still, Schalke's personnel options are currently depleted as injuries have plagued the German side. Schalke would have to play out-of-this-world defense and take their chances to defeat a currently confident Madrid squad. With this in mind, I predict Real Madrid has a 70 percent chance of advancing to the next round of the tournament.
B) I never thought I'd be saying this, but I am placing my faith in one Ángel di María. With Schalke naturally devoting its defensive attention to the BBC, I feel Ángel di María's penetrative runs, crosses, through-balls and outside shots will be key to getting Real Madrid on the scoresheet. El Fideo has been playing fantastic football since settling into his midfield role and despite his erratic history, I am confident we'll see a threatening di María in this Champions League tie.
C) As both a Real Madrid fan and football fan in general, I'd love to square off against Manchester United once again. Despite its glittering history, United is currently wading through a rough patch and can't seem to break out of the mid-table mire. Fergie's replacement David Moyes has yet to get the best out of his players and their aging centre-backs and midfield duo of Carrick and Cleverly would have a torrid time against the likes of Ronaldo, Bale, Ángel di María and Benzema.
J A Marsano
A) Math isn't my strong point. How do you express "if we don't win against one of the thinnest and most injury ravaged squads left in Europe - Leverkusen excepted - it'll be faintly disgraceful" in numbers?
B) One of our fullbacks, hopefully. I'm not particularly enamored by our wide play at the moment. There's room for improvement. So hop to it.
C) Why deny it? I'm probably the archetype of the snobby RM fan who thinks we're still a massive European team and damn everyone else - but even I'm not tempting fate by choosing a quarter-final opponent before we make it past this one - not even against one of the thinnest, most injury ravaged squads left in Europe. I'm awfully superstitious you know!
A) I would say 75-80 percent in favor of Madrid. Schalke has been somewhat unfortunate with injuries this season and with Höwedes and Uchida being out, the right side of their back line is looking particularly susceptible. Uchida could be back in time but he's still not the type of player who is set up to succeed against Cristiano Ronaldo. Their backups, Hoogland and Matip, shouldn't be able to fare any better than the injured starters. Schalke's chances lie almost completely with their attack and the Farfan/Boateng/Meyer/Draxler combo. This might be a matchup with plenty of goals scored but I feel that Madrid should have enough firepower to grab at least one away goal to give them the edge.
More About Schalke 04
More About Schalke 04
B) As I wrote, the right side of Schalke's defense is probably their biggest liability right now. While Marcelo has looked to be somewhat gassed lately due to carrying the LB load almost exclusively this season, his creativity and runs from the back will make Schalke's headache even that much worse and he's my key player in this matchup. Madrid could probably win with Fabio Coentrao as he'd provide valuable defense against Schalke's attack which is geared primarily to the right side of the pitch, but I feel that ADM would provide sufficient coverage should Marcelo go forward and link up with CR. I could see Fabio starting on the road and Marcelo at home, but I'm someone who loves going for the away goal and Marcelo's offense and connection with CR is noticeably better than Fabio's.
C) I don't see any underdogs pulling off an upset so I think it's safe to eliminate the minnows. That leaves PSG, Barca, Atletico Madrid, Bayern (ugh), Dortmund, Manchester United and Chelsea. Of these, Manchester United is, to me, clearly the weakest squad left and the one I'm hoping for RM to be matched up against. While they put up a tough fight against Madrid last season, they're clearly not the same team they were then. Even with Juan Mata, that midfield can be overrun and their defense is very vulnerable. Mata/Rooney/RVP is nothing to laugh at, but Madrid's defense has stiffened with ADM and Sergio playing better and Raphäel Varane should be much more match fit by that point so advantage Madrid. That and David Moyes (LOL).
A) It has to be around 80%. Real Madrid is simply the better team. Sure, they might struggle a bit against a quick, dynamic offense (the kind of players that can make guys like Ramos suffer) but Pepe is leading a very solid defence right now and Alonso/Modric can only help. I don't see how Schalke can keep up with the BBC, Jesé and Di María either.
B) I'm going with two: Sergio Ramos and whoever starts at left back. Ramos has been solid lately but I still consider it fairly easy for him to lose focus on one-on-one match ups and there can be issues facing quick players. About the left back, I would go with Coentrao in a heartbeat. He's just much more solid than Marcelo on defense.
C) The only scary teams for me are Bayern Munich, Chelsea (their manager is pretty good) and Dortmund. I would take Atlético or United. Atlético looked terrible against Real Madrid twice and that second match at the Calderón was a disgrace. In any aspect I can think of, Real Madrid has the edge. Not saying it's going to be easy, but I'd rather take my chances against them again, especially after the late positive results. It's La Liga game at the Calderón that worries me. And United, well, they are going through a nightmare and let's not forget that last year, the game at the Bernabéu should've been a blowout. The matchup looks a lot better now.
A) It is difficult to make a guess with numbers, but I would go with something between 75 and 80 per cent in favor of Real Madrid. Taking into account only the football-related features of both teams, Madrid is clearly the superior team. Schalke is not a side that excels in defensive tasks, they make too many mistakes and Ancelotti's men are experts in exploiting these errors. However, the German curse is still there, and the hot Schalke fans can make the difference in the first match.
B) Karim Benzema. He is playing his best football lately and, possibly, Schalke's centerbacks are their weakest spot. If Höwedes can't reach the leg, I believe the French cat has a huge advantage against Matip and Santana.
C) I don't care as long as it is not PSG or Bayern Munich. In fact, I hope they will be tied together in the QFs to elliminate one of the strongest rivals for the semifinal, where I hope we will be able to get to.
A) As some readers may have noticed already, I'm not an optimistic person. But I still think we were lucky to draw Schalke 04. Therefore, I believe we have around 80% chance of advancing to the Quarterfinals. Let's face it. To be knocked-out of this competition by Schalke would be a complete and unexpected failure. It simply cannot happen.
B) It's hard to pick one out of Bale, Benzema and Modric. But I go with the French striker. As Dani pointed out, he's playing his best football since he signed for Real Madrid and he's the key for Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to find space. Some fans still don't like/understand Benzema's game. He's not a pure striker and that's why his scoring numbers could surely improve. But he's one of the few players in that position who could help Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale reach their best numbers.
C) Considering all favorite teams go through, I would obviously pick Manchester United as well. I also now think that we could beat Atlético Madrid or Borussia Dortmund -they aren't that hot anymore-, but a United team without Mata for the rest of the Champions League and considering how bad they're looking in the Premier League could be fairly easy to handle.
Now have your say and answer those three questions in the comment section!