Gelsenkirchen - Unbeaten since the start of the season, a 2-1 win to kick-start their Champions League campaign in midweek and a burning desire to thwart great rivals Borussia Dortmund: FC Schalke 04 and FC Bayern Munich have a lot in common at the moment, and added to that list on Saturday (kick-off 15:30 CEST) will be the attempt by each to take three points off the other when they go head-to-head at the VELTINS Arena.
Stevens: "Confidence alone is not enough"
The hosts let themselves down against the Bundesliga's other top-four members last season, only managing to pick up three points from a possible 18 against Bayern, BVB and Borussia Mönchengladbach. The record champions, yet to drop a point in the current campaign, will provide the Royal Blues with their stiffest test yet on whether they've learned their lesson, or whether they remain a yard off the pace in the title race.
Schalke's last home win against die Münchner came in December 2010, but Huub Stevens in particular will be hoping this encounter is played out in a similar fashion to the last time he was in charge against Bayern, back in 2002: "There have been so many games in between, I can't really remember it. Of course I'm well aware that we beat Bayern 5-1, but I hadn't realised it was my last home game versus Munich in my first spell in charge of Schalke." Dortmund won the title that season and while he is reckoning with them again this time around, Stevens believes his side are taking on "the number one title candidates" on Matchday 4.
But for an 80th-minute strike by Hannover's Adrian Nikci, the Royal Blues would be going into this one with the same unblemished record as FCB and the belief within the Schalke camp is unwavering. "Confidence alone isn't enough to beat Bayern. We've got good results in our first few games, but we're still experiencing fluctuations in our game," Stevens acknowledged. "On Saturday we have to play with courage and conviction. We can't allow ourselves to be fearful against Bayern. Fear is a bad advisor." The 58-year-old Dutch tactician could be without midfield powerhouse Jermaine Jones, who injured his ankle during midweek, as well as flu-ridden duo Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Chinedu Obasi.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
While Schalke travelled to Greece to beat Olympiacos 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League, Bayern saw off Valencia by the same scoreline on home soil. Head coach Jupp Heynckes made several changes to his starting line-up for the Wednesday evening match and will likely follow suit again this weekend. David Alaba and Diego Contento have been back in training but, like Mario Gomez, are not yet ready to return to first-team action. Franck Ribery's lingering thigh problem means he hasn't travelled to Gelsenkirchen, but otherwise Heynckes, who himself had a season in the Schalke hot seat in 2003-04, has a full squad to choose from.
Ribery's counterpart on the opposite flank, Arjen Robben, is determined that Bayern continue a run of form that has seen them win their first six competitive outings of the season, noting, "It would be great if we could go on to win our next two or three games as well. Then we'd be on a proper streak." However, Philipp Lahm is aware that beating the Royal Blues won't be an easy undertaking and the Bayern captain is expecting a "game on equal footing", against a Schalke side, whom he considers one of the "co-favourites for the title".
Schalke: Unnerstall - Höwedes, Papadopoulos, Matip, Fuchs - Neustädter, Jones (Afellay) - Farfan, Holtby, Draxler - Huntelaar
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Badstuber - Javi Martinez, Luiz Gustavo - Robben, Müller, Shaqiri - Mandzukic