Real Madrid are in control of this Round of 16 tie thanks to a 2-0 win on the road against Schalke 04 in the first leg. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo not only gave Madrid the lead, but two away goals, leaving Roberto Di Matteo's side with a difficult challenge on Tuesday.
The one thing working in Schalke's favor at the moment is Madrid's poor form. Los Blancos lost over the weekend in league play against Athletic Bilbao, a defeat that allowed their rivals Barcelona to take over first place in La Liga from them. Either Ancelotti's side will respond and take out some of their frustration against the Germans, or they could find themselves vulnerable.
The bottom line for Schalke is they're going to have to play perfect, or pretty close to it, in order to pull off what would be considered a miraculous comeback. Not only will they need to score at least two goals, they're going to have to prevent Madrid from getting any of their own. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema all in a bit of a funk at the moment, they're still a formidable side to try and slow down.
Schalke's roster remains battered and beaten, a trend that's been ongoing for most of the season. B-team goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther is expected to start again with both Ralf Fährmann and Fabian Giefer still sidelined with injuries. Kevin-Prince Boateng is suspended, while Dennis Aogo, Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfán, Jan Kirchhoff, Sead Kolašinac and Chinedu Obasi are all out.
Real Madrid are starting to get healthy again, though Carlo Ancelotti is not likely to risk forcing anyone back to soon. Luka Modrić and Sami Khedira could both be available, but with a massive El Clásico match in a couple weeks, he might not want to risk them. Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez are both confirmed out.
Projected Lineups (left to right)
Schalke 04 (3-5-2): Timon Wellenreuther; Matija Nastasic, Joel Matip, Benedikt Höwedes; Christian Fuchs, Max Meyer, Roman Neustädter, Marco Höger, Astuto Uchida; Maxim Choupo-Moting, Joël Matip
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Marcelo, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal; Isco, Toni Kroos, Lucas Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale
Madrid probably won't admit it, but they're a tired team. A lack of rotation before the winter break, combined with the Club World Cup and a rash of injuries early in the new year, has forced Ancelotti to play the same guys over and over again. The biggest question for Madrid is whether or not Modrić and/or Khedira are ready to start. Ancelotti will likely be tempted, assuming they've look good in training, and the addition of either could change the midfield significantly.
Roberto Di Matteo started Klaas-Jan Hunteelar over the weekend, which makes Joël Matip getting the start up front likely. Kevin-Prince Boateng's suspension probably clears the way for Max Meyer, while Roman Neustädter seems likely to take over for the injured Jan Kirchhoff.
Benedikt Höwedes vs. Cristiano Ronaldo - Despite the fact that Ronaldo scored Madrid's opening goal in the first leg, Schalke's best defender did a reasonably good job keeping the Portuguese striker under wraps. He'll have help again this time around, but if Schalke have any hope of mounting a comeback, Höwedes needs to frustrate Ronaldo as much as possible and try to take him out of the match.
Pepe and Varane vs. Schalke's attack - A clean sheet in the first leg means that Madrid's central defensive duo got the job done. It was shaky at times, with Varane having a couple of moments that left you shaking your head (as he's proved to do). Schalke must score, preferably early to put pressure on the home side, so the defense will be tested. With Sergio Ramos still out, the pressure is on these two to keep the Germans from getting back in the tie.
Madrid's attack vs. Their poor form - Gareth Bale hasn't scored in eight games, Karim Benzema has been virtually invisible at times, even Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling. Part of the problem is the midfield not doing their job well enough, but part of this issue is probably fatigue. The positive for Madrid is that their attacking trip doesn't have to go crazy on Tuesday, they probably just need to generate one goal to see their side on to the next round.
It's seems entirely possible that Schalke could get an early goal and put some pressure on Madrid. The Spanish giants are in poor form, and their offense looked positively anemic over the weekend. If the Germans can get it to 2-1, anything could happen, but it's hard to see Madrid collapsing completely, especially at home. We'll probably see a tight game for an hour or so, with Madrid scoring late to put things away. Let's go with 1-1.