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Psychologist presents Champions League obstacle for Real Madrid

For anyone doubting the positives that can be harvested from a winter break, one look at the sudden improvements for Schalke in 2014 should go some way towards quelling these reservations.

Four straight wins have seen Schalke climb from seventh into fourth and Manchester United must be wondering what might have been if they had a few weeks off to work on some troublesome areas in training.

The decision to push Kevin Prince Boateng into a deeper midfield role has certainly had a positive impact, but it is an off-field signing that arguably deserves the majority of the credit.

Sports psychologist Theresa Holst has been having sessions with players on a weekly basis to improve their mental state.

Meanwhile, she has additionally been meeting with Schalke coach Jens Keller and general manager Horst Heldt.

The hope will be that this improved feel-good factor in 2014 carries over into the Champions League, where Spanish giants Real Madrid are their opponents in the round of 16.

Based on their improved form, Schalke’s odds of 6/1 to beat Real Madrid in the first leg in Germany could be construed to be on the lofty side, especially as the Spanish giants don’t have a great German record either.

In fact, in 25 visits to German opposition, Real Madrid have won just once, against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2000/01 campaign, while they were beaten 4/1 at Borussia Dortmund last season.

However, given that Real Madrid scored 20 goals in their six group-stage games and have been on target at least once in their last 21 Champions League away games, Schalke may have to score at least twice to triumph.

It is 20/1 that Schalke beat Real Madrid 2-1 in Gelsenkirchen or 66/1 that they head to the Bernabeu for the second leg with a 3-1 lead to protect.