Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 weren’t feeling too disheartened despite suffering a 2-0 first-leg defeat to tournament holders Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

The Royal Blues showed a marked improvement on last season’s home drubbing at Madrid hands and the general consensus is that Roberto Di Matteo’s side are heading in the right direction.

'Trying to build something'

“We were better prepared this time," admitted Cameroonian defender Joel Matip. “We sat a lot deeper than last season. “If that shot from Felix [Platte] had gone in it might well have ended differently. Sometimes it's those few centimetres that can make the difference. The fans know we're trying to build something here and they're right behind us.”

Twelve months ago Schalke were played off the park as they fell to a comprehensive 6-1 defeat on home soil. The partisan crown packed inside the Veltins Arena could only applaud the majesty of Los Blancos’ work, but this time it was different - even if the outcome was the same. Die Knappen dug deep and carved out chances, with two moments of brilliance ultimately deciding the contest in the visitors’ favour.

'Anything is possible in football'

“We wanted to keep the openings at a minimum for Madrid, not allow them space between our lines,” Di Matteo explained. “We did defend a bit higher, but you always have to be wary of their speed and counterattacks […] In this kind of game, there are not many chances. Sometimes the quality makes the difference. We need to score two goals if we want to qualify. Anything is possible in football which is why we now have to believe we can do something in Madrid.”

The Italian is no stranger to being in the position of rank outsider, not least after guiding Chelsea FC to the title with a penalty shoot-out victory over FC Bayern München in the 2012 Finale Dahoam, and after 135 days in the Schalke hot-seat, his pragmatic and optimistic approach is beginning to rub off. “We were hoping for a better result, but 2-0 doesn’t mean it's over in the return leg,” said 19-year-old rookie goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther. “I still have hopes of progressing.”