Valencia readies for Raul's return with Schalke
Raul Gonzalez will return to Spain for the first time since his move from Real Madrid when Schalke plays Valencia on Tuesday in the Champions League.
The former Spain striker helped Madrid win 15 trophies over 18 seasons before moving to the Bundesliga. Raul has scored 12 goals in 28 appearances for Schalke in his first season abroad, helping it finish top ahead of Lyon in its Champions League group.
"I'm very optimistic," Raul said. "We showed what we're capable of doing in the group stages. And we've got the advantage of playing at our home ground in the return leg."
Raul has scored 13 goals in 25 games against Valencia, including the 3-0 Champions League final triumph in 2000. The 33-year-old former Spain striker, who scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for Madrid, will move ahead of AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi as UEFA's all-time leading goalscorer with his next goal. The pair are tied with 70 goals each.
"Raul magnifies this tie," Valencia coach Unai Emery said on Monday.
While Schalke has never lost at the Mestalla Stadium, Valencia comes into the match in excellent form. The Spanish club has won six of seven matches for its best start to a calendar year since 1949-50. A 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Saturday moved it into third place in the league.
Valencia's attack is hoping to get an extra boost and have forward Juanma Mata back in the lineup after the Spain international missed several weeks because of an ankle injury.
"He's on course and wants to play, but whether or not his problems allow how him to is another thing," Emery said. "He'll do all he can to be available."
Valencia is returning to the knockout round for the first time in four years while Schalke is back after three seasons. Both clubs went on to reach the quarterfinals that last time.
Schalke managed draws in its previous two games at the Mestalla, while the clubs split the two games played in Germany. Valencia hasn't beaten a German opponent on home soil since a 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in 1996.
"This game is so important that we must erase the statistics from our minds and just go out and give our all," said Valencia striker Roberto Soldado, who trails only Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi and Mario Gomez with five goals scored in the competition.
"We're playing at home, and I'm sure if we continue on the path that got us here it will serve us well. We have the confidence and we need to use that."
While Mata could return, midfielder David Albelda will miss the first leg due to suspension. Brazilian striker Jonas is available after arriving in the January transfer window from Gremio.
Schalke is coming off its fifth win in eight games - a 1-0 win over Freiburg - to reach 10th in the Bundesliga after it spent much of the first half of the season flirting with the drop places.
"They're a complete, strong team," Emery said. "They're enjoying a great Champions League campaign but they haven't found consistency in the Bundesliga. Either way, we expect a strong Schalke squad."
Raul is not the only one making his return to Spain. Former Madrid teammate Christoph Metzelder is also coming back and Jose Manuel Jurado is returning after joining Schalke from Atletico Madrid.