Friday night's clash between the Royal Blues in one corner and the Reds in the other is not only the first Bundesliga fixture of 2013 - an eagerly-anticipated moment for football fans around the globe - but it is also a key indication of whether it could be a second half of the season filled with joy, remorse or even regret for the first two protagonists to get into the ring this weekend.
Hope springs eternal
"The lads have worked well and we're ready to go," stated Schalke coach Jens Keller on the eve of the Bundesliga restart which, as always, reserves plenty of surprises with nobody truly aware of where they stand after over four weeks of anonymous activity. "The team is in good shape and we've worked on a lot during our training camp, both tactically and mentally," added Keller, confident that he has tuned his team up accordingly.
Hannover coach Mirko Slomka, a former Royal Blue himself, is equally optimistic ahead of what will be a milestone match for him. He sits on the Hannover bench for the 102nd time, breaking the record he shared with Dieter Hecking as the club's longest-serving coach. "It's been very clear to us that the players, after the fortnight in which they were really able to switch of, have come back to train with real enthusiasm," said Slomka. "It's been really enjoyable on the training field."
One of the happy faces is that of new signing Johan Djourou, who is set to make his debut for the Lower Saxony side following his loan move from Arsenal FC earlier this month. "There is no doubt that Djourou belongs in our starting XI, he was a player we really wanted," said Slomka. "I think we have gained an extraordinarily good central defender with Djourou. He has a great presence and is very cool on the ball and we desperately needed that."
Djourou is not the only new face in the Hannover camp. Andre Hoffmann is another candidate for a debut and Slomka believes the 19-year-old is a player "who can help us out immediately", while Franca is another player who "can aide us in reaching our goals during the second half of the season."
Faith in new, and old
Schalke have also invested during the winter months by bringing in Raffael, while Edu has returned from his loan spell at Greuther Fürth. "We are going to have to wait and see what his fitness levels are," said Keller about the chances of former Hertha BSC Berlin midfielder Raffael featuring just a day after training with his new team mates for the first time. "Then we can decide if he will be part of the squad or not."
At the other end of the field, the Royal Blues will be without the 2011/12 Bundesliga top goalscorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who picked up a red card on Matchday 17. The Dutchman will join Jermaine Jones, also suspended, compatriot Ibrahim Afellay and Greek centre-back Kyriakos Papdopoulos. One decision Keller has made already though, is who will stand in goal. "Barring injury, Timo Hildebrand will be between the sticks," he said.
Schalke 04: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Fuchs - Höger, Neustädter - Farfan, Holtby, Draxler - Marica
Hannover 96: Zieler - Sakai, Eggimann, Djourou, Rausch - Schmiedebach, Pinto - Schlaudraff, Huszti - Abdellaoue, Diouf