Real Madrid duly cruised into the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday, following an entertaining but somewhat drama-free 3-1 win over Schalke at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With Madrid leading 6-1 after the first leg in Gelsenkirchen, and a Clasico against Barcelona coming in the league on Sunday, Carlo Ancelotti opted to rotate his starting XI where possible—while the visitors operated similarly with their own league concerns to think about.
Despite that, however, Cristiano Ronaldo was one of those players who did start—ostensibly so he could add to his goalscoring haul in this year’s competition—and he duly notched twice as Alvaro Morata also grabbed his first goal in European competition; Tim Hoogland's wickedly deflected strike shortly after the half-hour mark ultimately allowed Schalke to escape with a little bit of pride intact.
Real ultimately won the tie an eye-catching 9-2 on aggregate, although there was some bad news for Ancelotti as the promising young forward Jese Rodriguez suffered a serious knee injury, later confirmed as a ruptured cruciate ligament, early in the first half.
"He has had bad luck and it is bad luck for Real Madrid because we are going to lose a very important, young player who has done very well this season and surprised everyone," Ancelotti said afterwards, per AFP.
Schalke may have effectively been out of the tie before the second leg even began, but that did not stop them starting in uncompromising fashion, with a series of bullish challenges on Real forwards setting an early tone.
The most common culprit was Sead Kolasinac, and it was a challenge from the left-back that soon forced Jese from the pitch. The Spaniard was clattered by his opponent and writhed on the ground in agony, with Ancelotti forced to bring Gareth Bale on in his stead.
It was a substitution that the Italian undoubtedly would have preferred not to make so soon, especially with El Clasico on the horizon, but it did have the side effect of producing the first goal.
Alvaro Morata was also instrumental, the striker finding Bale out wide as the winger ran into the box and crossed for Ronaldo to sweep home.
Real had dominated possession and created the most chances prior to that goal, but Schalke had not been without a threat of their own. Perhaps freed from the pressure of trying to salvage something from the tie, they were fluent in attack, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar going close on a number of occasions.
Yet in the end their equaliser came from the most unlikely of sources. Hoogland had not scored in four years prior to Tuesday’s game, but when presented with a clear view of goal 40 yards out, he thought nothing of running on and unleashing a shot on goal.
The resultant effort looked to be on target even before it clipped Sergio Ramos, but the deflection turned Iker Casillas into a hapless spectator as the ball swerved perfectly into the bottom corner.
Real continued to press and probe after that slight setback but were frequently thwarted by a combination of good goalkeeping from Ralf Fahrmann and poor finishing.
Isco and Morata were particularly culpable in that respect, although Ronaldo and Bale also found themselves being frustrated on occasion.
Eventually, however, Schalke cracked under Real's pressure—and two goals in as many minutes sealed victory on the night. The first was a strike of solo brilliance from Ronaldo, the Portuguese taking the ball off Bale and running 35 yards before driving a vicious low strike inside Fahrmann’s near post.
Moments later it was Morata’s chance to enjoy a career highlight, grabbing his first goal in the Champions League in the simplest of fashions.
The youngster also had Bale to thank, the Welshman unselfishly cutting the ball back to his team-mate after Ronaldo had crashed an effort off the crossbar following an awful mistake from Julian Draxler.
Draxler nearly made amends shortly after, forcing a good save from Casillas, but by this point it was almost all Real. Isco and Bale continued to test Fahrmann's reflexes, but the tie had long been over.
Real will now feel very good about their chances for the remainder of the Champions League, confident they can match whoever they are paired with in Friday's quarter-final draw.
Their defence appears relatively strong and their attacking line scarily powerful, although Ancelotti will be mindful of the effect further injuries might have on his options going forward.
"I think all of the best teams have won their series, although there can be some surprises," Ancelotti demurred, per the Associated Press. "Whoever we draw, it's going to be difficult."
First, however, is the small matter of El Clasico.
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Real Madrid's next La Liga contest is a hugely important El Clasico meeting with Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday. Schalke, meanwhile, face Eintracht Braunschweig as they focus on qualifying for European football again next season.
The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League is on Friday, March 21.