Gelsenkirchen - There's currently talk of a crisis in the Ruhr District, but while many are wondering what has happened to Borussia Dortmund's title challenge, it's FC Schalke 04 whose downturn in form has been far the more dramatic.
Not meeting the mark
The Royal Blues were just four points behind league leaders FC Bayern Munich shortly after beating Ruhr rivals BVB in their own back yard, but now Huub Stevens' charges sit 16 points off the pace having failed to win any of their last five league matches. By the same measure die Knappen are just six points above 14th place.
While it has been plain sailing in the UEFA Champions League - Schalke finished top of their group - a 3-1 defeat on the road to VfB Stuttgart brought them crashing back down to earth again last week and ten points from a possible 18 after European outings is hardly encouraging, even if the players have been quick to dispel concerns over their ability to juggle competitions.
"It's absolutely not [a problem]," midfielder Roman Neustädter told bundesliga.com. "We've qualified in the Champions League and can focus fully on the Bundesliga as a result. We're taking it game by game, the next opponent is always the most important."
One win in seven leading up to the winter break tells a different story, however, with Gelsenkirchen outfit looking a shadow of the side that beat Dortmund 2-1 on Matchday 8.
Hunter off target
Neustädter insists he "feels no sense of crisis" at the club, but one major problem is certainly costing them points at present. Ciprian Marica may have become Schalke's 13th different goalscorer this season against Stuttgart, but generally the goals are drying up and Schalke's over-reliance on the form of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is becoming all too apparent.
Top goalscorer in the 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign with 29 goals, not to mention 48 strikes in 48 games in all competitions, Huntelaar's contribution was pivotal to the Royal Blues' performances in the league as well as in Europe last season. Fast-forward to the present, though, and 'the Hunter' is struggling to get into the groove with just five league goals to his name all term.
"It's great that I've been able to score in the Champions League," said the 29-year-old target man. "I'm trying just as hard in the Bundesliga, but at the moment it's simply not working out as well."
Schalke's issues last season revolved around their inability to pick up points against other teams in the top four. However, in the current campaign they've acquitted themselves well against the likes of Bayern and Dortmund and are instead dropping points against more ambitious mid-table teams.
The loss of Ibrahim Afellay has denied the Royal Blues the use of a creative presence in the final third, while USA international Jermaine Jones has picked up a four-match ban for his sending off against Stuttgart and injury to Kyriakos Papadopoulos has cost them a leader at the back.
New Year's resolution
Still, in spite of the absences of certain individuals a revival is still possible in the New Year according to Neustädter, who believes they "just need another successful outing" to get themselves back on track.
"The next game is crucial and we want to win it," said the Germany international. "Freiburg are waiting for us, we need to take all three points and then we'll be back in the ascendency."