Real Madrid have all but booked their place in the Champions League quarterfinals with an incredible 6-1 win over Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. Even more remarkable than the scoreline was the manner in which it was achieved, with the Spaniards never having to step out of first gear. Make no mistake about it: They're seriously out to challenge Bayern's status as Europe's best team.
It took inside a quarter of an hour for Real to open the scoring, as Cristiano Ronaldo's flick from the edge of the area bounced off Felipe Santana, straight into the path of Karim Benzema. From there, there was only one outcome.
Schalke almost equalized immediately, though Julian Draxler's volley from point-blank range was miraculously blocked by Iker Casillas, after both Sergio Ramos and Pepe contrived to miss Jefferson Farfán's cross.
Unfortunately for Schalke, that would prove to be their only serious chance of the entire first half. They did manage to settle into some possession, but were defensively no match for Real. The Merengues looked like they could score at will; breezing forward on Carlo Ancelotti's demand. Gareth Bale all but ended the tie with a second away goal just after 20 minutes in, jinking past two defenders before prodding past Ralf Fährmann.
They should've scored several more before the break, with Ronaldo striking the post before twice being denied by the keeper in one-on-ones. Benzema too spurned a good opportunity; sliding wide after getting on the end of an excellent deep cross from Marcelo. It was only through good fortune that the hosts managed to keep the scoreline respectable.
Within six minutes of the restart, Ronaldo finally had his goal, and respectability went out of the window altogether. Bale drifted inside and found his Portuguese colleague in space; isolating centerback Joël Matip. With a quick stepover and a swipe of his boot, the ball was in the back of Fährmann's net. Benzema helped himself to a fourth five minutes later; stroking home from a tight angle after an intricate interchange with Ronaldo unthreaded the hosts once more.
With 20 minutes to go it was five, after Ramos strode out of defense to play a wonderful cutting pass for Bale. With one touch he curled the ball inside Fährmann's far post, and Real still weren't done there. Ronaldo completed the rout with his second in the last minute of normal time; rounding the keeper and slotting home Asier Illarramendi's through ball.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar did give the home fans something to cheer with a great volley in stoppage time, though alas it was the ultimate in consolation goals. As if Schalke weren't sad enough, they've still got a second leg at the Bernabeu to follow. Things could get seriously messy.
Schalke 04: Fährmann; Kolašinac (Fuchs 76'), Santana, Matip, Höwedes; Neustädter, Boateng (Goretzka 59'); Draxler, Meyer, Farfán (Obasi 72'); Huntelaar.
Goals: Huntelaar (90+1')
Real Madrid: Casillas; Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Carvajal; Di Maria (Isco 68'), Alonso (Illarramendi 73'), Modrić; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale (Jesé 80').
Goals: Benzema (13', 57'), Bale (21', 69'), Ronaldo (52', 89').