Gelsenkirchen - One of Matchday 33's nine games to kick off simultaneously at 15:30 CET this Saturday takes place at the Veltins Arena, where FC Schalke 04 host VfB Stuttgart.
The Royal Blues are not yet assured of fourth spot in the table and with star midfielder and Germany international Julian Draxler having signed a new long-term contract this week, the need to ensure top-level football is clearly evident, as is the desire to bid the home fans adieu in style. For Stuttgart, it is their last game on the road this season, ahead of a rather more important away day next month in the German capital.
It has been a good season to be a regular spectator at the Veltins Arena. A humiliating defeat to bottom club Greuther Fürth notwithstanding, highlights have included the memorable 2-1 derby win over bitter Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 25 and victory in the pulsating 5-4 classic over Hannover 96 at the beginning of the calendar year.
The club have won an impressive ten and drawn three of their games on home soil: victory against Stuttgart would add yet more life to an already healthy home record and send the fans core support home happy for the final time this season, as well as gaining sweet revenge for the 3-1 defeat at the Mercedes-Benz Arena earlier in the campaign.
More importantly, however, victory would help the club ensure its future success by bringing qualification for the UEFA Champions League one step closer. Jens Keller’s side have a three-point lead over Eintracht Frankfurt in fifth with two games left to play, meaning that at least four points from their final two games would be enough for them to seal a return to Europe’s premier club competition under their own steam.
Competing at Europe’s top table is paramount for the club and is an objective that four-time German international Draxler referred to after committing to his new contract. “I want to play in the Champions League for the next few years,” he said. “In a sporting sense, the future looks very bright here at Schalke and I want to help shape that future,” continued the 19-year-old, who misses out this weekend through suspension.
Eyes on the Cup?
Stuttgart, meanwhile, might be forgiven for having already begun to start focusing on their upcoming DFB Cup Final against newly-triumphant Bundesliga champions FC Bayern Munich on 1 June.
Already assured of Europa League football next season, their league season is in danger of ending with barely a whimper, after also suffering the ignominy of a home defeat to relegated Fürth last time out.
Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Fuchs - Neustädter, J. Jones - Farfan, Raffael, Michel Bastos - Huntelaar
Stuttgart: Ulreich - Hoogland, Tasci, Niedermeier, Molinaro - Gentner, Boka - Harnik, Maxim, Traoré - Ibisevic