Mönchengladbach - FC Schalke 04 picked up three big points towards securing a place in the top four and a UEFA Champions League qualifying berth with a 1-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final Friday evening game of the Bundesliga season.
Early midfield scrap
An 82nd-minute strike by Julian Draxler was all that separated the sides come the end of a hard-fought contest at the Borussia Park, after the hosts had twice hit the woodwork in the second half. The result takes Schalke up to 52 points, four behind third-place Bayer Leverkusen ahead of the latter's game at FC Nuremberg. Gladbach, on 44, are likely to drop lower than their current seventh by the end of the matchday on the back of a defeat that is a serious blow to their own Europa League credentials.
The hosts edged the early exchanges, Mike Hanke cleverly freeing up Juan Arango for a first-time effort that fizzed just over in the fourth minute. Not long after that, Joel Matip almost put an Arango corner into his own net with a headed clearance, just as Schalke appeared to be establishing a foothold in the contest with their own aggressive pressing tactics.
The visitors' first sniff of goal came in the 14th minute, Foals full back Alvaro Dominguez getting a vital touch to Sead Kolasinac's through-ball, allowing keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to get to it just ahead of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Those half-chances aside, a hotly-contested, physical midfield battle was unfolding as the first half progressed. Half an hour in, there was a flurry of end-to-end activity with Arango first setting up Granit Xhaka for a shot over the bar, before Kolasinac's cross-come-shot had ter Stegen punching the ball away for a Schalke corner, which came to naught.
Michel Bastos went closer a couple of minutes later with a bouncing effort that the Gladbach keeper managed to bat to the side, after which the game reverted to its oft-interrupted midfield flow, with a succession of loose passes and petty fouls dominating the picture up to the break.
The second half got underway with Marco Höger on for Atsuto Uchida, Schalke's Japanese international right back having suffered a suspected concussion in the wake of a clumsy early challenge by Filip Daems. Gladbach midfielder Xhaka made his presence felt early on, firing one effort inches wide and nailing another against the crossbar after being teed up by Hanke in the 55th minute. Schalke's immediate response was a thumping shot from Bastos that ter Stegen managed to fish out of the corner.
Draxler decides it
Just over an hour in, Gladbach were denied by the woodwork for the second time, Arango latching onto the rebound following a miscue from team-mate Peniel Mlapa and drilling the ball against the post. Huntelaar's angled drive then had ter Stegen on call again as the action continued to hot up. Branimir Hrgota, on up front for Mlapa, almost made an instant impact, outfoxing Benedikt Höwedes inside the box before Royal Blues keeper Timo Hildebrand nicked the ball off his foot.
The all-deciding moment came at the other end, though, ten minutes later. Draxler pressed into the box at speed, took a return pass from Raffael, who nutmegged Thorben Marx in the process, and slotted the ball past ter Stegen from close range. There was still time for Gladbach to respond and they did, sub Luuk de Jong and Martin Stranzl both going close from a corner and an Arango set piece respectively. But Schalke kept their goal, and the three points, intact through to the finish.
Line-ups and statistics