MADRID, March 9- European champions Real Madrid will expect to take another step closer to becoming the first team in 25 years to retain the Champions League when they host Schalke on Tuesday holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Madrid have strung together 10 consecutive victories in Europe stretching back to their successful run to their 10th European Cup last season, but have found the going a lot tougher domestically in 2015.
Los Blancos surrendered their lead at the top of La Liga at the weekend as they were beaten 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, whilst Barcelona thrashed Rayo Vallecano 6-1.
That was Madrid’s fourth defeat in 14 games this year with coach Carlo Ancelotti admitting he was at a loss to explain how his star-studded strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale has so suddenly gone off the boil.
“It seems strange to say Madrid have a problem up front when we have scored so many goals throughout the season, but I think it is the truth,” said the Italian on Saturday.
However, captain Iker Casillas has insisted that they won’t suffer a hangover from their La Liga woes at the Bernabeu.
“This competition is different. For Madrid fans it means everything,” he told the club’s website.
Schalke were on the receiving end on Real’s run towards the title at the same stage of the competition last season in a 9-2 aggregate hammering.
And Casillas is adamant that Ancelotti’s men still have all the qualities required to go all the way once more.
“We know that it will be very difficult but we will fight to achieve it. We are ambitious and we have a mixture of youth and experience so why not?
“Last year we played against teams that had caused us problems in the past and we were capable to play good football and get to the final. We will give everything to get to Berlin.
“We have the team to do it and we hope to repeat the success of last year.”
Madrid will be boosted by the return of Luka Modric after over four months out with a torn thigh muscle.
Sergio Ramos also returned to training on Sunday after a month on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, but isn’t expected to be risked by Ancelotti with a potentially decisive La Liga clash with Barcelona just 10 days away.
Schalke, meanwhile, enjoyed a far more successful weekend as they registered a first win in five games with a 3-1 victory over Hoffenheim.
That result boosted the Royal Blues chances of a return to the Champions League next season, but left-back Christian Fuchs retains hope a famous comeback at the Bernabeu.
“We travel now to Madrid in a positive frame of mind, no one will bet on us, so maybe there is a chance for us,” said the 28-year-old.