LONDON: Six clubs are virtually certain of their places in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League after the latest flurry of action which saw Real Madrid score goals for fun and Chelsea emerge all-square from a confrontation with old favourite Didier Drogba.
Madrid won their second round first leg 6-1 away to Schalke in Germany with two goals apiece from Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Afterwards coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed Bale’s performance as his best since his world record arrival last summer.
Ancelotti said: “”That was Bale’s best game of the season. My players performed with togetherness. Everything came off for us. The front three all scored twice but they also had the help of their team-mates.”
Bale has scored 14 goals in 23 appearances for the Spanish giants since his £85.3m move from Tottenham in September.
After his pre-season preparations had been disrupted by his move to the Spanish capital, the 24-year-old appears to be close to the form that secured him the Professional Footballers’ Association’s and Football Writers’ player of the year awards in his final season in the Premier League.
During his time in England, Bale had only one Champions League campaign – reaching the quarter-finals with Spurs in 2011 where they lost 5-0 on aggregate to Madrid.
Real play the second leg at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, 18 March and are all but certain to be in the draw for the last eight three days later.
In Istanbul Galatasaray – with Drogba – were held 1-1 by Chelsea though the Premier League side might have won it with a sharper “cutting edge” according to manager Jose Mourinho.
The Premier League leaders were in control of the first leg in Istanbul after Fernando Torres’s early opener. But they conceded a poor second-half goal to leave the tie delicately poised ahead of the return leg on 18 March.
“Some other teams have three chances and score three goals. We have five and score one,” said Mourinho. “That’s not a critique of the strikers but it’s the profile of the team we have.”
Chelsea dominated the first half at the Turk Telecom Arena, but were unable to double their advantage while they were in control. Galatasaray equalised through Aurelien Chedjou to give the Turkish champions hope ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho added: “We create but when we arrive in the final third of the pitch, the correct pass and right movement is something we don’t have. We are paying for that. In the Premier League we are losing points and in the Champions League we could have had a different result.”
Galatasaray coach Roberto Mancini, who said before kick-off that Chelsea had an “80pc” chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, saw his team’s fortunes change after he made a tactical substitution midway through the first half.
“In the end it could be a good result. We should play like we did in the second half. We were too deep in the first half,” said the ex-Manchester City manager.
“In every attack we lost four players during the first 20 minutes, they were counter-attacking us every time, and that’s impossible against Chelsea. I brought off Izet Hajrovic. He didn’t have a bad game but we needed another midfielder. A 1-1 draw is a good result and we have a chance.”
Drogba, who offered little threat in his first game against the Blues since leaving in 2012, agreed that it was a decent result for the Turkish champions.
“It was a special game to play against my old team-mates,” said the Ivory Coast international, 35. “It was a great game and I think it is a good result.