Gelsenkirchen - There'll be no love lost in Saturday evening's ground-shaking encounter between FC Schalke 04 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen (kick-off 18:30 CEST) at the Veltins Arena.

Heading down the back straight, Jens Keller's men are gaining momentum in their bid to repeat last year's feat of qualifying directly for the UEFA Champions League and now have the opportunity to close the gap on third-placed Leverkusen to just one point.

"Key game"


"First and foremost we want to hold on to fourth place and put a bit of breathing space between ourselves and the chasing pack," explained Royal Blue defender . "Of course we know that we're on a level playing field with Leverkusen. It's a key game. Whoever wants to finish third has to win."

There has certainly been no questioning Schalke's winning desire of late. Indeed, their rediscovered knack of winning makes them one of the Bundesliga's form sides since the turn of the year, die Knappen having picked up as many points in their last five outings as Dortmund and only three less than new champions FC Bayern Munich.

"Self-belief"


"We have reason to be optimistic and, with five wins from our last six, we've got plenty of self-belief in the tank," said Matip of his side's post-winter ascent of the league ladder. "All the players have done their bit. Obviously we want to keep this run going against Leverkusen."

Further success in Gelsenkirchen would also go some way to atoning for a defeat in the reverse fixture on Matchday 12, which sent the Royal Blues into a cataclysmic spiral and swiftly propelled Leverkusen into the top three - a position they've now kept their paws on for over four months.

"Cup final"


Not that Bayer boss Sami Hyypiä is attaching any importance to the sides' most recent tussle. "It would be a mistake to concentrate on that," affirmed the Finn. "Schalke are in much better form now. It's an important game and we'll approach it like a cup final - but there will be another five finals after that."

Speaking of which, it's now over a decade since Schalke took out Leverkusen in the final of the DFB Cup, a clash which set the tone for many a crackerjack battle between the two, including the Royal Blues' 7-4 win over the Werkself in 2006: one of the most enthralling spectacles in the Bundesliga's Oscar-worthy, 50-year history.

Possible line-ups:

Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Kolasinac - Höger, J. Jones - Draxler, Raffael, Michel Bastos - Marica.

Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Schwaab, Kadlec - L. Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Sam, Kießling, Schürrle.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge