FourFourTwo's La Liga expert Tim Stannard on the mood in Spain ahead of tonight's Champions League tussle in Gelsenkirchen...
“The Giant is Back!” was the booming front cover from Tuesday’s edition of Marca. The paper was referring to Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, as it frequently does, but for LLL the true Colossus is the graphic design king of Spain who works at this wonderful publication.
The genius who once turned Karim Benzema into a Doctor Who-style cat person had a Jonathan Swift-inspired moment by portraying Ronaldo as a galloping, roaring giant with wee Schalke players trying to tether the player down. The literary reference is playfully tweaking the notion that a bored Ronaldo has been cooling his heels in La Liga, serving out a three-match suspension with nothing but hours in front of the mirror and a new hair-do to work on.
Unfortunately, history shows the Bundesliga outfit are set to tie down Ronaldo and all of Real's other players without too much effort. After all, the Spanish giants' record in Germany is quite awful: in 25 European games played there, Real Madrid have managed to win just one. Heck, even Arsenal have a better tally than that. Maybe even Spurs, although that might be going too far.
Schalke are set to join the likes of Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich and, most entertainingly of late, Borussia Dortmund in frustrating the visitors from Spain’s capital city on Wednesday. The Germans are out to dampen the spirits of a club cock-a-hoop about being top of the table for the first time in 63 rounds of La Liga football.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop the local press getting very excited indeed about the return of Ronaldo, with Carlo Ancelotti revealing that his Portuguese superstar is “especially motivated, considering he has not been happy about not being able to play”. Considering that the forward is like a hyperactive child hammering a ball against a garage door from six in the morning at the best of times, Ronaldo skipping out onto the pitch in Gelsenkirchen should be a sight to see.
AS blows raspberries at Madrid’s record in Germany, however, saying it belongs to “different times”. “Today, German football is not what it was if we take out Bayern and Borussia Dortmund,” notes Alfredo Relaño, which seems a trifle odd to LLL.
The clash also brings up the name of Raúl, poked out the Bernabéu back door after the second coming of Florentino Pérez, for the crime of having Ronaldo’s preferred shirt number and being more popular than the Portuguese preener. Indeed, the striker’s mobile must have been ringing permanently with people looking to pick his brains on the clash between his two former clubs.
“I would like to play for Schalke in the Arena and Madrid in the Bernabéu,” he obliged, reflecting on his enjoyment in Germany when he was allowed to be a simple striker again and not the hassled icon of Madrid. The Spaniard probably hit the nail on the head with his prediction that “Schalke need a positive result at home, as if they don’t it will be tough in the Bernabéu.”
History suggests the first part of that job could be a mission completed. However, the result will need to be very positive indeed to stop a Real Madrid side looking calm and composed under Ancelotti.