For a Schalke 04 team which has finished in the top four of the Bundesliga in three of the previous four seasons and which is once again challenging for second position during the current campaign, Wednesday’s Champions League home leg tie against Real Madrid must have been a sobering experience. A close encounter was expected but a 6-1 defeat by the Spanish team must have been rather galling for the in-form German team.
Despite losing to 4-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the early part of the season and then being defeated 3-0 in both Champions League group games by Chelsea, Schalke appeared to showing signs of a recent improvement in form after displaying a degree of inconsistency during autumn.
Since the winter break in Germany, Schalke had not lost a match in 2014 prior to their contest with Madrid and had won four of their five games conceding only two goals in the process. Striker Klass-Jan Huntelaar had returned from injury while Jefferson Farfan and young Max Meyer were helping with goal scoring duties. Add the highly regarded Julian Draxler and Kevin-Prince Boateng into the team and it could be assumed that Schalke would provide decent opposition for any formidable European team.
When Real Madrid arrived at the 61,000 capacity Veltins Arena in the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday evening, they were favourites to win, but the current form of the home team had to be respected.
Unfortunately, a forward line of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale offers no respect to reputation and they proceeded to dismantle the Schalke team with a clinical display of forward play which suggests they are capable of dethroning Barcelona in La Liga and offering a viable challenge to European champions Bayern Munich.
Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale scored two goals apiece on Wednesday night against a team which reached the semi-finals of the tournament in 2011 yet their combined fee of approximately 230 euros is testament to the fact that money still counts when teams are chasing the ultimate prizes.
Real Madrid were criticised in the summer for the sale of Mesut Ozil to help finance the deal for Bale, but their judgement appears to have proved correct for now as the team displayed a brand of football for which Schalke simply had no answer. For the German team, the extra finance earned from the Champions League may help towards further team strengthening in the summer months but will they be able to cope with the likes of Real Madrid in the later stages of next season’s tournament.
Champions League revenue should also allow Schalke 04 to maintain their healthy position in the Bundesliga without really troubling Bayern Munich, but when it when it comes to the serious matter of competing on an equal footing with the real European powers, there is still an alarming gap both in skill and finance.