Spanish soccer giants wary of German outfit
HOLDERS Real Madrid do not expect another goal bonanza at Schalke 04 in today’s Uefa Champions League round of 16 first leg after their big win last season, with midfielder Toni Kroos warning not to underestimate the German soccer outfit.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti will be hoping his normally formidable attacking trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema return to top form in time for the trip to Germany.
The trio each scored twice in the 6-1 victory at Schalke in last season’s round of 16 first leg but Ronaldo, in particular, has been off colour this year.
He again failed to score in Saturday’s unconvincing 2-0 win at home to promoted Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga and has managed only four goals this year.
“We are top of La Liga and the reigning champions in Europe,” Ancelloti said on Saturday. “It’s true that we have not been brilliant this year, but I hope the return of the Champions League will bring out the best in us.”
Another reason for Real’s stumble has been injuries to regular centre backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos. Pepe should be available but Ramos is not due to return for about a month and their replacements, Raphael Varane and Nacho, have looked far from convincing.
Improving Schalke, fourth in the Bundesliga, are desperate to make amends for last season’s drubbing and hope Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will be fit after being ill with a virus.
“He is an ice cold striker and I am happy if we have him as an option against Real,” teammate Tranquillo Barnetta said.
ý Meanwhile, Basel’s tie against Porto today pits two clubs who have mastered the art of nurturing the talent of little-known footballers and selling them to Europe’s top teams.
Unable to compete with the financial power of the biggest clubs, both have instead been happy to accept a role as stepping stones for players hoping to make their way to one of the leading five leagues.
Both have been highly successful at what they do and have managed to remain competitive despite allowing a succession of top footballers to walk through the exit door.
Porto have managed to keep replenishing their talent pool and now boast the likes of Colombia forward Jackson Martinez in attack and Algeria midfielder Yacine Brahimi in midfield.
Porto have won the Primeira Liga seven times in the last 10 season and reached the Champions League knockout stages five times.
Basel’s model is slightly different as they place more emphasis on generating revenue from ticket and hospitality sales and regard income from transfers as a welcome extra.
But, like Porto, the continued departures have not prevented them from lifting titles.
They have won the Swiss league for the last five seasons and reached the Champions League last 16 on three occasions, an outstanding achievement for a club from a small country.
Having qualified at the expense of Manchester United in 2011-12, Basel ousted Liverpool in the group stage this time around.