Munich - FC Schalke 04 capped a perfect week with their dogged 1-0 win over 1. FC Nuremberg on Saturday, making it their best start to a Bundesliga season in 41 years.
"Games you have to win"
"Last season we'd have conceded the equaliser in these sort of games, but now we’re winning them.” said Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Indeed, it is this greater level of maturity which has some believing the Royal Blues can push trailblazing Bayern all the way.
Against Nuremberg, they expected a fight and got just that. The difference to last season, though, is that they rose to the challenge. "We knew beforehand it was going to be a dogfight, but these are exactly the sort of games you have to win if you want to stay at the top," added battle-hardened midfielder Jermaine Jones after the game.
The USA international was not just referring to the sub-zero temperatures, but rather to der Club's extremely well-drilled and compact defensive set-up, which only served to frustrate their high-flying hosts.
"Did the right thing"
After a gruelling week, die Knappen deserve plenty of credit for grinding out the result, especially after the euphoria of the Revierderby win over Ruhrgebiet rivals Borussia Dortmund and the Champions League triumph against Arsenal in London. "The will and motivation were there, but after such an intense week, a few things were missing," admitted Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes.
Still, 'winning ugly' did the trick for Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt: "They did the right thing. After a draining week, against such opposition, it wasn't easy. So it's all the more impressive that we managed to find the patience and determination to see out the game."
In the end, it was Jefferson Farfan who got the goal, the Peruvian joining Huntelaar und Lewis Holtby on three goals for the campaign. Ibrahim Afellay already has two, with seven others adding their names to the scoresheet so far this season, which just goes to show, as Jones affirmed: "it doesn't always have to be Huntelaar getting the goals."
"The Derby win was good for the soul, and the Nuremberg win good for our points tally", surmised Heldt after the game - one which serves as the ideal warm-up for Schalke's next battle against Bundesliga 2 side SV Sandhausen in the German Cup.