Gelsenkirchen (Germany), Feb 18 (IANS) Real Madrid start the knock-out stage of the Champions League with a return trip to face German outfit FC Schalke 04 on Wednesday night.
Last season saw Real come back from the first leg of their last 16 tie in the Veltins Arena with a 6-1 away win which virtually assured their progress into the quarterfinals, reports Xinhua. While a repeat performance is unlikely this time around, Real Madrid are still clear favourites to go through against a rival that has several players missing through injury.
Real have injury issues of their own and it looks as if central defender Pepe will force his recovery from a rib injury in order to try and give some extra experience in central defence. Real coach Carlos Ancelotti will either take a chance on the Portuguese international or continues to confide in the relatively inexperienced duo of Rafael Varene and Nacho Fernandez.
Marcelo is also available after appearing to twist his ankle during Saturday's 2-0 win over Deportivo la Coruna, but Fabio Coentrao, Luka Modric, Sami Khedira are all definitely out. Without Modric and Khedira in midfield, Ancelotti will either hand a debut start to recent signing Lucas Silva or continues with Asier Illaramendi in the centre of the pitch.
Real also have a problem in attack, where Cristiano Ronaldo has been well off the pace for around a month. The World Player of the Year looks to be suffering as the result of the end of his relationship with model Irina Shayk and has cut a frustrated figure on the pitch in recent matches.
He also seems to be struggling with a physical problem of probably a return of the knee injury which troubled him a year ago and which has limited his mobility in games. He has scored just three goals in 2015, but he and strike partners, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will hope for space on the break on what will be a cold night in Gelschenkirchen Wednesday.Published 18 Feb 2015, 13:12 IST