Doha - Despite a heavy defeat against FC Bayern Munich and the injury misfortune that has befallen the Royal Blues over the winter, spirits in the FC Schalke 04 camp were positive as the team prepared for their return to Gelsenkirchen from their training base in Qatar.
Huntelaar: 'All about confidence'
"We've made good progress, especially as far as tactics are concerned," claimed head coach Jens Keller, who replaced Schalke's long-serving Dutch coach Huub Stevens shortly before the winter break. Without a win from their last seven competitive matches, Keller's emphasis had been on improving the team's efforts when not in possession, and claimed that the team could be "highly satisfied" with their endeavours.
Star striker and last season's top goalscorer in the Bundesliga was similarly optimistic as the Doha trip came to an end. He brushed off the injury issue and instead focused on the imminent return of competitive football, insisting that victory against Hannover 96 next Friday could turn their fortunes around. "We just need that one success to regain our confidence," the Netherlands international said. "We have a lot of quality in the team and will do our best to get back on track."
It wasn't all sunshine and roses though, and the winter break has come at a cost for the Gelsenkirchen side. The injury curse struck particulaly badly, as Ibrahim Afellay, Christoph Moritz and Jermaine Jones all picked up injuries, with Moritz's season over already. Huntelaar, however, believes Keller still has enough alternatives to chose from. "We have a lot of good players and we can compensate for their injuries," believes the former Real Madrid man, who recently extended his contract at the club until 2015.
Champions League inspiration
Schalke have lost four of their last six games and slipped to seventh in the table, yet Huntelaar still feels that the targets set at the beginning of the current campaign shouldn't be altered. "We want to qualify for the Champions League, and the deficit to the top isn't that large," he commented.
He also pointed out that their impressive progression to the last 16 in Europe has inspired the team further. "We've experienced great games in the Champions League group phase and want a repeat of this next year." Two seasons ago, Schalke reached the last four in the continent's elite club tournament but finished way down in 14th place. The ambition this season is to ensure progress at home and in Europe, a task that, with or without a full squad of players, Huntelaar believes is possible.