Cristiano to still be taking free kicks
It’s recently come to light that Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick record really hasn’t been as laudable as you’d think. A fortnight’s time would mark an entire year since the 2014 Ballon d’Or winner scored directly from a free kick, having tried over 50 times during that period, and yet somehow it seems inevitable the Real Madrid man will continue to be on set piece duties this evening against Schalke. Gareth Bale should certainly feel aggrieved at the lack of opportunities in this area, and it perhaps shows the size of Cristiano’s ego that he hasn’t voluntarily relinquished himself of the responsibility. The trademark run-up and technique no longer threatens the opposition net as much as it used to, but we imagine he’ll keep taking free kicks even if it’s in spite of his team.
Aboubakar entrusted to push Porto through
Friday’s away win at Braga on Friday came at a price for Porto, as Jackson Martinez limped off with a groin injury in the second half. The Colombian striker has been in remarkable form this season, scoring 26 goals in 31 games, and his absence will be felt tonight in Porto’s second leg against Basel. His replacement on the weekend was Vincent Aboubakar, who has played just 11 times since arriving in the summer due in part to the undroppable form of Martinez and Africa Cup of Nations duty in January. The Cameroon international now looks set to lead the line for his club’s biggest match so far this season, and while the 23 year-old has scored two his three goals this season in the Champions League, another tonight would do a lot to raise his stock with supporters.
Crises averted at the Bernabeu
As one of the world’s biggest-spending clubs with exceptional pedigree, it doesn’t take much for the pressure to crank up at Real Madrid. The Champions League holders lost in their La Liga match against Athletic Bilbao on the weekend, losing their place at the top of the table and in doing so extending their ‘run’ without scoring in open play to two games. Real manager Carlo Ancelotti has acknowledged the relatively poor form of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema, but the trio will start tonight and with a 2-0 aggregate lead it will take a disaster for the home side to blow progression. Despite the domestic wobble, Real have won 10 consecutive Champions League matches and 11 consecutive home matches in the competition. While it would be welcomed, the misfiring front men don’t have to pull up trees tonight to ensure a quarter final place.
Sousa making himself known back home
Paulo Sousa remains a legendary figure in his native country of Portugal for his playing days, but tonight provides a huge opportunity for the Basel manager to make his mark as a manager back home. Besides a role for the Portuguese U16 side a decade ago, Sousa hasn’t managed in his home nation, and while his exploits in Switzerland will have interested clubs across Europe he would surely love one of the top jobs in Portugal. Having been held at home by Porto in the first leg, Basel travel to the Estadio do Dragao with a big task ahead of them. Porto are unbeaten in the Champions League this season, while Basel won just a point on the road in their group. Anything to seriously threaten the home side’s progress to the last eight of the competition would do much to put Sousa on the radar for any future vacancies at Benfica, Sporting or perhaps even Porto.
Depleted Schalke to not have enough
Overturning a two-goal deficit away at Real Madrid would require the home side to be off their game and the visitors to be ruthless at the best of times. While the former factor could well be a possibility, Schalke’s current roster of fit players probably isn’t to the level required to make the most of any opportunity. Injuries to Real’s James Rodriguez and Sergio Ramos would be noteworthy were it not for the nine players unavailable for Schalke, fifth in the Bundesliga, due to injuries and suspensions. Kevin-Prince Boateng is banned tonight, while the likes of Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann remain out of the first-team picture with knocks. On top of that, Roberto di Matteo is sweating on the fitness of strike pair Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Erix Choupo-Moting, who both hurt themselves on the weekend. Di Matteo may have won this competition just a few years ago but tonight looks to be the night the door is shut for Schalke.