Having experienced so many highs and lows during his 16-season career at Real Madrid CF, FC Schalke 04 striker Raúl González said that returning to Spain to face Valencia CF was something special
There was a packed audience for the 33-year-old's press conference at the Mestalla ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg, and the striker told the media: "This is the first time I've been back in Spain since going to play in Germany so for that reason it's going to be a memorable game for me.
"I received a very warm and affectionate welcome here; it was very much appreciated. This is going to be a UEFA Champions League game in which I really want to feature, against a great team like Valencia with great supporters."
Despite the presence of other big-name players with Spanish experience alongside him in the Schalke lineup – namely José Manuel Jurado, Christoph Metzelder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Raúl would have preferred to avoid meeting a Liga team at this stage of the competition. "If you had asked me beforehand perhaps I would not have chosen a Spanish team at this point, especially when you consider that Madrid and Barcelona are among the favourites to win the tournament," the forward explained.
"Valencia are a very strong side and are currently playing at a very high level. They are third in their championship and full of confidence. With the backing of their supporters they will set a high tempo but we are confident we can do some damage. We know how to compete against them."
Of his 228 goals in the Liga for Madrid, five came at the Mestalla and the ex-Spain striker also scored in the 2000 UEFA Champions League final victory against Valencia to collect the second of three winner's medals in the competition. "What we need to do on Tuesday night is to go out mentally focused, full of concentration and looking to exploit our strengths while playing as a team," the former UEFA Club Forward of the Year said, before explaining what he had learned during the past eight months in Germany.
"The Bundesliga has helped me to improve as a player. It is a competition that's different to what I was used to; there is a different way of working and training but it has been a very enriching experience so far." Turning his thoughts back to the matter in hand, Raúl highlighted former Madrid team-mate Roberto Soldado – who has scored five times in five group-stage appearances this term – as a possible threat to Schalke's chances. "[Soldado] is a great player and he's demonstrating why at the moment. He's a guy that gets you goals and a very important player for Valencia. I wish him all the best in the Liga but hope he has a couple of quiet games against us."
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