Cristiano Ronaldo scored a goal and laid off an assist as Real Madrid edged out Schalke 2-0 on Wednesday to take control of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Lucas Silva, a €15m January arrival from Cruzeiro, was given the nod in central midfield ahead of Asier Illarramendi, who was only good enough for the substitutes’ bench. Elsewhere, Pepe made his long-awaited return to the Madrid XI at Veltins-Arena, replacing Nacho at the back, having recovered from a rib injury, which had kept him sidelined for a month.
Madrid faced Schalke at the same stage of the Champions League last season and eventually progressed to the quarter-finals, courtesy of a 9-2 aggregate victory, and the Royal Blues seemed to miss the invention of Julian Draxler in the final third as their attacks regularly broke down.
They then suffered a further blow in the latter stages of the first half when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, facing his former team, was forced off after finding himself on the receiving end of a strong Raphael Varane intervention.
Chances came at a premium as Schalke looked to offer a threat on the break and allow Madrid the freedom of the ball, but it was the Germans who squandered the best opening before Ronaldo’s goal, Dennis Aogo blasting over from close range.
Arguably against the run of play, Los Blancos found the first goal shortly after as Dani Carvajal’s devastating, outswining cross from the right-hand side was powered home by the Portuguese, leaving Joel Matip with no chance in the air.
Moments later, Ronaldo was presented with the opportunity to double his haul for the evening from a free-kick position on the left-hand side, but Timon Wellenreuther did superbly well to tip the ball away.
The second half proved a scrappy affair for most part as both teams were unable to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Marco Hoger was found in the box by Eric Choupo-Moting, but the starlet could only aim for the side-netting.
Madrid continued to shift through the motions until substitute Felix Platte, only making his Schalke debut at the weekend, slammed the crossbar on the volley, before Atsuto Uchida could only roll the rebound into Iker Casillas’ grateful palms.
However, the team guilty of fluffing chances ultimately paid for their profligacy as Ronaldo and fed Marcelo, who in turn smashed a strike towards the top-right corner of Wellenreuther’s net to secure both Madrid’s advantage in the tie and his side’s 10th straight European victory.
Schalke 0-2 Real Madrid (agg 0-2.)
Ronaldo 26, Marcelo 79
Schalke: Wellenreuther; Nastasic, Matip, Howedes; Uchida; Hoger (Meyer 80), Neustadter (Kirchhoff 57), Boateng, Aogo; Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar (Platte 33)
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal (Arbeloa 82), Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Silva, Kroos, Isco (Illarramendi 85); Bale, Benzema (Chicharito 78) Ronaldo
Referee: Atkinson [ENG]