By Tim Hanlon
Misfiring Real Madrid hope to have Luka Modric back for their Champions League last 16 clash with Schalke and provide the creativity that they have been missing.
Murmurs of crisis at the Bernabeu have been growing with Real having surrendered their lead at the top of La Liga following a 1-0 defeat away to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and the focus of the concern has been on their poor form in attack.
With a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Germany, at least the pressure should be off the champions in the second leg against Schalke on Tuesday (9.45pm) and it should be the ideal chance for Carlo Ancelotti’s side to get back on track.
The team has not been able to rediscover their sharpness ever since they crashed to a 4-0 defeat in the derby against Atletico Madrid at the beginning of February.
Since then, they have won just three from six in all competitions and the focus is now on whether the return of Modric can spark the forwards back into life.
“There was too much confusion to what we were doing,” Ancelotti told a news conference following the Bilbao loss.
“We were too slow and did not move the ball around well so that there was no space for the forwards.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, the attacking trident who plundered opposition defences in Real’s Spanish record 22-match winning streak at the end of 2014, have now mustered just 15 goals from 14 games.
Confidence among the trio appears low with Bale, who has received whistles from the Real fans for being selfish, now having gone eight games without a goal.
Modric was a key player in the opening months of the season with his clever passing from midfield before he suffered a hamstring injury last November.
With James Rodriguez also in the treatment room, Real have looked predictable in the middle of the pitch and been unable to find an effective link with the forwards.
Modric was keen to face Bilbao but Ancelotti felt it wiser to give him a few extra days to get stronger following his hamstring injury and return against Roberto Di Matteo’s Schalke, who lie fourth in the Bundesliga after their 3-1 victory over Hoffenheim on Saturday.