Crushing victories the order of the day for Schalke, Madrid
Real Madrid put a disjointed Tottenham side to the sword tonight at the Bernabeu while Schalke shocked defending champions Inter Milan at the San Siro with a 5-2 thrashing. Both teams now take commanding leads to the next legs, to be played next week.
The Champions League quarterfinals roll on with Chelsea hosting Manchester United in an all-England matchup while Barcelona play host to Shakhtar Donetsk. Both matches are live from 2.30 PM on Fox Soccer and Fox Soccer Plus.
Tottenham endured a miserable night filled with self-inflicted wounds. That they were taken full advantage of by their old tormentor Emmanuel Adebayor must have only made matters sting worse.
First, Aaron Lennon was a late scratch from the team in the tunnel, with the official reason being a sore throat. There is much confusion surrounding this switch tonight, so much that UEFA officials were actually called to rule that his omission also kept him from being called as a substitute.
From that inglorious beginning, things quickly got worse: Adebayor scored from a free header just four minutes into the game, ditching Lennon’s replacement - and his marker, Jermaine Jenas - to set the tone. Then, ten minutes and two wild tackles later, Peter Crouch was rightly sent to the showers.
The final scoreline - padded by another goal by Adebayor, a laser of a strike from Angel Di Maria and then a capper by Cristiano Ronaldo - will strike some Spurs fans as harsh. It was not: the Londonders were outplayed and outthought in every aspect of the game in what became a magisterial performance by Jose Mourinho’s men.
With the ball or without, Real continually pressured a nervous, unassured Spurs side into making basic errors. Both of Adebayor’s goals came off defensive howlers that allowed the former Arsenal man free headers. Angel Di Maria’s goal was well-worked, but Ronaldo’s was another gaffe by 'keeper Heurelho Gomes, plain and simple. Spurs never settled, seeing Rafael van der Vaart do little on the night, and watching Gareth Bale only intermittently involved. The best player on the field for them was Michael Dawson, and he was lucky not to concede a penalty when he blatantly handled the ball in the area.
The match also served as an examination of just how far hard work can take you in European football. The answer is: not far enough. For all of Spurs’ vaunted grit, they were neutered by a classy, well-passing and tactically astute side that demonstrated the patience to win. Spurs spent large swatches of the second half backed up into their own penalty area, unable to even move forward on Iker Casillas’ net. It was a shambles in every sense.
Real Madrid’s managers and players said all the right things after the match, noting that the tie is "not over," but in reality, it is. Spurs have thrilled this season but a combination of inexperience and injury finally did to them what AC Milan could not. They were shut off.
On one hand, Schalke's performance in Italy must have them virtually into the semifinals.
On the other, they are playing against an Inter Milan which has treated its Champions League title defense like a long-running serial, offering cliff-hanging endings that have so-far resulted in escapes that defy explanation.
This time, however, it appears the Germans have already done enough. Five goals, all of them away, and a three-goal first leg lead make an Inter comeback the longest of longshots.
The first 45 minutes in the San Siro will have thrilled neutrals as much as it disconcerted both managers. Inter's Leonardo searched vainly for his defenders while Ralf Rangnick will not have needed long to see why his Schalke side had earned its label as the competition's most schizophrenic side.
The second 45 were all Schalke's, their performance silencing the San Siro crowd as it ground up an Inter side that looked not only uncertain, but, at times, slow and amateurish at the back. On the heels of a 3-0 loss to AC Milan at the weekend it was the worst of all possible Inter responses.
The game's start was mesmerizing, with Schalke 'keeper Manuel Neuer racing outside his area to head clear from Diego Milito only to be stunned when Dejan Stankovic first-timed his volley from the halfway line and found the empty net. Not even a minute gone and the defending champions were a goal to the good.
Schalke might have been level off a Raul header before a corner set up their first equalizer in the 15th minute. Inter's missing defenders first allowed Kyriakos Papadopoulos a clean header to the free. The Greek probably should have scored with it, but Julio Cesar's save proved useless when the rebound fell for Joel Matip to belt it past Wesley Snjeider's too-late lunge.
Inter then enjoyed its final spell of the night. Samuel Eto'o mistimed his run and was offside when he side-footed the ball home in the 21st minute, but Milito started and finished an outstanding goal in the 34th to put the Italian side back on top. The Argentine forward started wide left, found Javier Zanetti, who played to Sneijder for a cross that Esteban Cambiasso headed back across the face of goal. Milito had not stood and watched - instead he was moving through the back door of the German defense and had no problem beating Neuer from five yards.
Of course, Schalke, being Champions League Schalke rather than Bundesliga Schalke, used that simply as a challenge to be swept aside. In response, Schalke tightened the defense after its erratic start, keeping Inter at bay by getting enough men behind the ball without lifting their own attacking pressure. It proved the perfect formula for a stunning upset that keeps the most improbable of Champions League stories alive.
First, Edu got two chances to beat Julio Cesar in the 40th minute, succeeding with the second. Then it was the turn of the evergreen Raul to latch onto a pass from Jefferson Farfan, which enabled him to turn past Zanetti before shooting wide of the Inter 'keeper.
It immediately got worse for Inter when a quick counter freed Jurado to run wide right and cross for the closing Raul. This time the Spaniard did not need to touch the ball; Inter's young defender Andrea Ranocchia slid and neatly tucked the ball into his own goal.
That was in the 57th minute and when Milito could not reach a cross from Eto'o with a gaping net in front of him a minute later, the Inter supporters' faith in their team's miracles this campaign may have begun to slide.
To make matters worse Christian Chivu was ejected in the 61st minute when he picked up a second yellow card, leaving Inter to deal with the last half-hour with just ten men.
The fifth Schalke goal was therefore no surprise, especially since it had taken something of a miracle to deny Farfan about 30 seconds before Edu drove his second of the night through an Inter defense reduced to spectator status in the 75th minute.
Normally, you would have expected Inter to produce some of that defensive skill Italian teams are supposedly noted for. Instead, by the time they reached the 57th minute Schalke was halfway to the semifinals.
One possible problem for the Germans next week: Farfan, one of attacking engines, will miss the second leg after collecting a yellow card in first half stoppage time. Still, it may take more than that to keep Serie A part of the European story this season.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.