This pedestrian side is not Real
LAST 16, FIRST LEG
REAL MADRID 2
(Cristiano Ronaldo 26, Marcelo 79)
Real Madrid supporters have no perspective. They've never had any perspective. They're Real Madrid supporters.
They are raised on winning. Trophies are the norm. Droughts are the exception.
So they whine more than most.
They boo victories. Record-signings are jeered for not scoring cup winners from the halfway line in every game and heavy defeats feel apocalyptic.
Losing 4-0 to Atletico Madrid really was the end of the world as they knew it.
Real fans are pampered, preening peacocks of the world's terraces, always entitled, always exasperated. But that doesn't mean they are entirely wrong.
Real were boring against Schalke yesterday morning. The 2-0 scoreline effectively secured a safe passage into the last eight and any criticism smacks of the same lack of gratitude that Madrid's moaners are guilty of.
But the galloping gazelles of the pre-Christmas period have been replaced with cantering workhorses. They get the job done, but with all the flair of a dentist pulling teeth.
Cristiano Ronaldo ended his laughable three-match goal drought and Marcelo thumped home a decisive second with his weaker foot, but Carlo Ancelotti's goal celebrations betrayed his relief.
Something is missing from Real's play. All the ingredients are in place for a potent mix, but the alchemy isn't right.
The missing link might be Gareth Bale.
He wasn't poor and offered tantalizing glimpses of his gifts, a back-heel to Isco in particular was delightful, but he's either trying too hard or not hard enough to please the insufferable supporters.
The hardcore Santiago Bernabeu zealots still struggle to call Bale one of their own. His immediate impact in key games and cup finals hasn't been enough. Perhaps it was the price tag, or the unhelpful and unnecessary comparisons to Ronaldo, or even his glamour-free Welshness.
But his indelible influence on Tottenham matches has been less evident at Real.
Surrounded by better personnel, he rarely needs to win matches on his own of course, but he drifts more. Against Schalke, he barely featured.
The same might be said of Ronaldo except for the towering headed goal and the combative, tenacious assist for Marcelo.
Without being heavily involved in the game, the 30-year-old played a pivotal role in both goals.
Maybe that's the problem. Bale doesn't partner a mere footballer, but a superhero. Ronaldo arrives with hair gel and a cape, ready to adopt his gallant sheriff's pose before every free-kick. He cleans up every town he passes through, including Schalke.
It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it because no one else does.
Bale was not the only absentee in Germany. Toni Kroos' World Cup form hasn't been entirely replicated in a Real Madrid jersey (though it's hard to do anything seriously in a pink football jersey.)
A couple of telling passes were less telling than his struggle to link midfield with a distant Karim Benzema. Lucas Silva fared no better, leaving the role to Man-of-the-Match Isco.
The Spaniard scampers with all the enthusiasm of a kid in a splash pool, an able stand-in for the injured James Rodriguez. He didn't just fill the void left by the Colombian, he covered for his teammates who were present but not always correct.
The challenge of wrestling back La Liga's crown from Atletico, along with the added ball and chain of trying to become the first side to retain the Champions League trophy, adds to the suffocating pressure in Real's dressing room.
Ancelotti isn't helped either by injuries to Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric. But one of the world's top sides laboured against a limited Schalke handicapped even further by the early withdrawal of Klass-Jan Huntelaar.
The German side posed little threat.
The fact that his wide-eyed, precocious replacement, 19-year-old Felix Platte, rattled the crossbar when the score was still only 1-0, reminded Ancelotti of his side's vulnerabilities.
The swagger of last season, when Real won 6-1 at Schalke, has ebbed away. They can't be extraordinary every week, but it's a Real ordinary life at the moment.
With Isco in support, Ronaldo not only bailed out his teammates, but also Bale himself.
No one in a Real jersey looked particularly pretty in pink. But the Welshman's inability to impose himself on negative, defensive opponents preoccupied with sparing themselves a repeat of last season's humiliation must concern both man and manager.
When Ancelotti joined most of the team in a celebratory huddle after Marcelo's decisive strike, Bale wasn't there.
He wasn't involved, literally out of the picture. It was the story of his game.
If he's going to win over those entitled fans, it cannot be the story of his season.