Pitchside Europe

Schalke suffer Real rout after failing to heed warnings

Horst Heldt had warned them: "Each of our players must remain error-free, and be that for every second of the game." Whoops. Clearly, the words of Schalke's sporting director were not taken to heart by his players, who got little right against Real Madrid on Wednesday evening.

The last-16 tie had been billed as 'The Game of the Year'. In fact, it turned out to be so much more historic with the 6-1 loss Schalke's heaviest in European competition. "It was a lesson," former Schalke man Andreas Moeller wrote in his column for kicker on Thursday. It was, and a particularly painful one at that.

"As funny as it might sound, we started well," claimed Benedikt Hoewedes, who presumably was either discussing the warm-up or does have a very keen sense of humour, given his side were 2-0 down with barely 20 minutes played. The fact they were was largely due to the rather dubious contribution of Felipe Santana, who the more paranoid Schalke fan may suspect might have been planted in the Blues' squad by arch-rivals Dortmund to deliberately undermine their Champions League hopes.

The more sensible Schalke supporter will simply admit Santana was shown up as the defender he is. Reasonably effective in the Bundesliga, yet chronically prone to errors. While those lapses may go unpunished by Nuremberg and Freiburg, teams like Madrid are not so forgiving. Two slips by the Brazilian and Madrid were in the driving seat - Schalke, by contrast, were still trying to hitch a lift into a game that was already out of sight.

Jens Keller's claim that he had "a young team" out to face Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. does not stand up. Though Max Meyer and Sead Kolasinac qualify as young and inexperienced, Julian Draxler and Joel Matip may be youthful, but have tasted Champions League football before - was Draxler too inexperienced when he scored that wonderful matchwinner at Basel in the group stage? Keller's argument simply does not wash for a side that included Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Hoewedes himself.

Simply, like Leverkusen against Paris Saint-Germain last week, Schalke found themselves outclassed, showing just how far some of the Bundesliga's biggest names have to go in competing with their still bigger rivals across Europe.

The same cannot be said of Bayern Munich, of course, nor Borussia Dortmund, who look well-set for a quarter-final place after their 4-2 win at Zenit St. Petersburg, a triumph for which last weekend's 3-0 loss to Hamburg had seemed an ominous precursor. According to Dortmund supremo Hans-Joachim Watzke "after not even two minutes you could see it was a completely different team to the one that was on the pitch on Saturday."

You might argue it was more like five minutes after Dortmund's two early strikes, but there is no doubt Juergen Klopp's men once again showed they can dine heartily when they sit down at European football's top table. However, the Dortmund coach's claim that the performance was "near optimal" was slightly exaggerated.

Dortmund's healthy early advantage was due as much to Zenit's shortcomings as the visitors' own undoubtedly impressive qualities, and last season's runners-up should have led by more at the break.

They conceded twice, and though Robert Lewandowski provided a swift and soothing riposte both times - surpassing Stephane Chapuisat as Dortmund's all-time Champions League leading scorer in the process - they surely will not be able to afford to be so generous to the higher quality adversaries they will face later in the competition.

Ian Holyman - @ian_holyman