Here are three takeaways from Real Madrid’s win in Gelsenkirchen.
1. Ronaldo has ended his slump.
The World Player of the Year entered the game in the midst of a scoring drought. By drought, we mean three La Liga games without hitting the net. But it’s been four years since Cristiano Ronaldo has been so ineffective.
There was also talk of a Real Madrid crisis -- although it has a one-point lead over Barcelona atop the La Liga standings -- because of the 4-0 loss Feb. 7 at Atletico Madrid. Ronaldo also took a beating in the Spanish press for hosting a lavish 30th birthday party for himself after that loss, with rumors that some of his teammates were upset by it.
Real Madrid didn’t exactly sparkle against Schalke, but Ronaldo came through big time. He scored with a header off a Dani Carvajal cross in the 26th minute. And Ronaldo set up Marcelo’s goal -- a marvelous 18-yard strike into the top corner in the 79th minute -- after juking past the double-teaming near the sideline of Atsuto Uchida and Marco Hoeger.
2. Schalke not shamed this time.
Both teams met at the same stage last year, when Real Madrid thumped Schalke 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen and 3-1 in Madrid for a 9-2 aggregate win.
Schalke, currently fourth in the Bundesliga, was missing young winger Julian Draxler, 19-year-old goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther was called on to replace injured Ralf Faehrmann, and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar left the game after the 33rd minute with a leg bruise.
Huntelaar’s replacement, Felix Platte, hit the crossbar in the second half -- Schalke’s only serious threat.
It wasn’t as bad as last year, but giving up two goals at home means it’s extremely unlikely that Schalke this year will match its most successful run in the competition, a semifinal appearance in 2011.
3. Real Madrid remains on course for historic repeat.
Last year, Real Madrid made history by becoming the first 10-time winner of the Champions League, previously known as the European Cup. This year, it’s aiming to become the first team to repeat since the format change in 1992. (AC Milan won in 1989 and 1990.)
That Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez are scheduled to return from injury for the later rounds of the Champions League bodes well for Real Madrid’s quest. As does the fact that Lucas Silva, the 22-year-old Brazilian who arrived from Cruzeiro three weeks ago, performed competently against Schalke in central midfield.
TRIVIA: Ronaldo’s goal was his 58th in 58 Champions League games.
Feb. 18 in Gelsenkirchen
Schalke 04 0 Real Madrid 2. Goals: Cristiano Ronaldo 26, Marcelo 79.
Schalke 04 -- Wellenreuther; Uchida, Howedes, Matip, Nastasic, Aogo; Hoger (Meyer, 80), Neustadter (Kirchhoff, 57), Boateng; Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar (Platte, 33).
Real Madrid -- Casillas; Carvajal (Arbeloa, 82), Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Lucas Silva, Kroos, Isco (Illarramendi, 85); Bale, Benzema (Hernandez, 78), Cristiano Ronaldo.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (England)