- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) - Real Madrid staked its claim as the main challenger to Bayern Munich’s supremacy in Europe with a 6-1 rout of Schalke on Wednesday.

With its star forwards firing on all cylinders, Madrid outclassed Bayern’s Bundesliga rival and only a miracle would now see the Spanish side fail to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

“Real and Bayern are the two best teams in the world,” Schalke coach Jens Keller said.

This could be Madrid’s season.

The club is sitting alone atop La Liga for the first time since the 2011/12 season, when it won the title.

And the devastating display against Schalke underscored Madrid’s ambition of taking Bayern’s crown in the Champions League, where it is seeking an elusive 10th title after being eliminated in the semifinals the last three seasons.

Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals apiece to tear apart Schalke and coach Carlo Ancelotti was full of praise for his team.

“We played a very, very good match,” Ancelotti said. “We got well into the match, scored two early goals and that opened the game and left us able to counter and to use the speed of our players.”

Goals from Benzema and Bale gave a Real a two-goal lead after 21 minutes, but in between Iker Casillas pulled off a stunning save from Julian Draxler. Jefferson Farfan sent a long cross that was slightly deflected and Draxler pounced from three meters, only to see Casillas react with an amazing reflex stop.

“It was an incredible save, maybe the crucial moment of the match,” Ancelotti said. “It protected our lead.”

And that from the ‘keeper who has slipped down the pecking order. Casillas only plays in the Champions League, while in the Spanish Liga, Diego Lopez takes his place.

After that, Schalke rarely threatened, although Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s volley in stoppage time was the most spectacular of all seven goals on the night.

Madrid’s individual class was never in doubt but the side now also plays with a newly found team spirit and seems to have a lot of fun on the pitch - although that may be the easy part when a team is winning comfortably.

“You can’t just win anything with one player. It’s a team game. We’re all really working hard for each other,” Bale said.

Benzema got the scoring going in the 13th. Bale played the ball to Ronaldo, who used his backheel to pass it through to Benzema to find the net.

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