Real Madrid can't be written off
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
REAL MADRID 3
(Cristiano Ronaldo 25, 45, Karim Benzema 52)
(Christian Fuchs 20, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 40, 84, Leroy Sane 57)
- Real advance 5-4 on aggregate
Four away goals at the Santiago Bernabeu still couldn't get Schalke the result they wanted.
Real Madrid lost and yet entered the last eight of the Champions League for the fifth straight year.
Football doesn't always make sense.
Neither does Real's current slump, which dipped to a new low following their 4-3 loss to German Bundesliga outfit Schalke yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The defending champions' 2-0 win in the first leg in Germany proved enough, as they went through with a 5-4 aggregate score.
Since Valencia snapped their 22-game winning streak in January, Real haven't been looking themselves.
Three losses in their last seven matches in all competitions have also left them a point behind Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga table.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti is at a loss to explain his team's mysterious sticky patch. It, however, explains the rumours of his sack.
The home fans jeered the team off the pitch and waved white handkerchiefs in a show of disgust. Gareth Bale was mercilessly booed again. The fans have turned their backs on Iker Casillas too.
Cristiano Ronaldo was so frustrated by the criticism that he has vowed not to speak to the media again until the end of the season.
Ten months ago, the Bernabeu was a picture of jubilance, basking in the prestige of La Decima. Now, the atmosphere has turned toxic.
An 11th title, which looked well within their reach three months back, now looks a tall order.
An apologetic Ancelotti admitted as much, saying that "we won't get very far" playing like this.
The truth is that he almost certainly won't last the campaign if things don't pick up fast.
The backline is a good place to start.
"We need to look at our defence, that's where all our errors were. No team has put four past us at home," said the wily Italian.
Against Schalke, the defenders were dragged all over the place by the Schalke gang led by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Leroy Sane.
Pepe and Raphael Varane hardly ooze confidence in the middle, Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arbeloa struggle to contain the wing attacks, and the midfielders don't offer enough protection.
If modest Schalke can fashion 20 goal attempts - 10 were on target - in Real's den, then what chance of Ancelotti's men stopping the likes of Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain?
Up front, Bale continues to test the patience of the Real supporters with his wildly inconsistent performances.
Ronaldo, despite setting a new all-time record goal total in Uefa club competition with his 77th and 78th strikes, found his feat overshadowed by his team's appalling display.
Real can't panic now.
And Ancelotti simply doesn't. It's just not in his blood.
The five-time Champions League/European Cup winner - two as a player and three as a manager - has seen and experienced enough in his career to fully appreciate the cyclical nature of football.
What goes up, must come down. What falls will eventually rise.
The impending return of defender Sergio Ramos will give him the leader in the backline that they have been sorely missing.
Luka Modric's comeback will provide essential direction in a midfield that has spluttered for more than two months without really coming to life.
Colombian star James Rodriguez, currently out with a broken foot, is expected to be back for the Champions League quarter-finals.
Against Schalke, Real very likely got complacent from a comfortable first-leg advantage. This could be the wake-up call they badly needed.
Ancelotti isn't working with scraps.
Footballers get to the top of their game only if they have the fortitude to go with their gifts. And Ancelotti is equipped with some of the world's finest.
Real may be down, but they sure as hell are not out.
BY THE NUMBERS
78 Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo has set a new all-time record goal total in Uefa club competitions with his 77th and 78th strikes against Schalke yesterday, overtaking former Real legend Raul Gonzalez's 77.