Munich - Local rivalries don't come any bigger, or fiercer, in Germany than the one between FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. As the crow flies, a mere 15 miles separates Schalke's home base of Gelsenkirchen from that of their Ruhr district neighbours. For the vast bulk of the fans of both teams, this short distance defines two diametrically opposed football worlds.
Schalke good, Dortmund better
Worlds which have nonetheless collided many a time down the years, as is the nature of football. Over the longer view these great rivals could scarcely be more closely matched, as testified by their head-to-head record in the Bundesliga (see comparison on the right). In terms of the hard currency of silverware, however, it has been a somewhat different story.
Dortmund have won eight German championship titles all told, five of them in the Bundesliga era. The two most recent, of course, were earned back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, the latter topped off with a DFB Cup triumph to complete their first-ever domestic double. Last season, while unable to keep up with FC Bayern Munich's red-hot pace on the home front, the Yellow-Blacks garnered international acclaim aplenty with their pulsating run to the final of the UEFA Champions League.
Their Royal Blue rivals, by contrast, were last champions of Germany in the dim and distant days before the national flight came into being back in 1963. Which is not to say they've been asleep at the wheel themselves of late, far from it. Last time out they did, after all, earn a shot at the qualifying rounds of Europe's elite club competition courtesy of a Matchday 34 showdown victory at SC Freiburg. The season before they went one better, securing a direct group stage berth courtesy of a third-place finish in the table. In 2010/11, meanwhile, a poor league campaign was partially compensated by victory in the DFB Cup.
New kids on the block
In short, Schalke have been one of the top German teams of the past few years - yet they still remain distinctly overshadowed by Dortmund's spectacular rise under Jürgen Klopp. So what are the prospects of die Knappen shifting the balance of Ruhr district power back in their favour in 2013/14? Fairly slim perhaps, at first glance, given that BVB, far from resting on their laurels, are showing a real appetite to challenge FC Bayern longer-term for dominance on the domestic scene.
While Borussia's recent success has been built on solid and ever-improving foundations, however, Schalke have been qualifying for Europe almost in adversity, to the turbulent backdrop of coaches coming and going and, last summer, a temporary moratorium on all transfer expenditure. For the campaign ahead and beyond, though, the Royal Blues have acquired a couple of great up-and-coming midfield talents in Christian Clemens, formerly of 1. FC Köln, and Germany's latest Wunderkind, 18-year-old Leon Goretzka, who enjoyed a dazzling first professional season with VfL Bochum in Bundesliga 2.
Full steam ahead
The team's turnaround in fortunes under Jens Keller over the second season-half is, however, perhaps the most promising news of all. Months of speculation as to the future of Huub Stevens' successor in the hotseat were ended when he was given a new two-year contract in May. Having attained the season target of Champions League qualification, the former Under-17 coach can now turn his attention to shaping the team in his own image. For starters, another summer signing, 1. FSV Mainz 05 top scorer Adam Szalai, is earmarked to take some of the scoring weight off of Dutch ace Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
A more general weight was meanwhile removed from the shoulders of the Schalke collective when Julian Draxler committed his immediate future to the Royal Blue cause. The 19-year-old Germany international has rapidly developed into one of the hottest properties in the game, and not just in his home country, whilst becoming the youngest player ever to rack up 50 Bundesliga appearances. By penning a new deal through to 2018, he has sent out a personal message of intent, which will stand as representative for the team as a whole: for FC Schalke 04, being No2 in the Ruhr district is just not good enough.