Hanover - FC Schalke 04 take to the pitch at Hannover 96 on Saturday (kick-off 15.30) seeking to belatedly get their season going after a disappointing start. The Royal Blues have just one point from two Bundesliga games and in danger of falling at the first hurdle in the UEFA Champions League.
Problems at the back, stretched up front
Wednesday's 1-1 home draw with PAOK FC means qualification for Europe's premer club competition is by no means guaranteed. Failure to qualify would be a bitter blow, but just as worrying has been Schalke's defensive frailty. Jens Keller's men have shipped seven goals in their first two league games, matching their worst-ever start from the 1980/81 and 1987/88 seasons.
The statistical doom-mongers have already taken due note of the fact that both those campaigns ended up in relegation for the Gelsenkirchen outfit, but players and coach alike are concentrating on more immediate concerns. The leaky defence, playmaker Julian Draxler acknowledged after the game against PAOK, is "clearly our biggest problem. After the interval we were one or two per cent less focused and that makes itself felt straight away."
At Hannover, Draxler & Co. will certainly be looking to improve their last visit to the region, a 4-0 defeat to VfL Wolfsburg. Keller made a point of stressing his side's "ability to score away from home" and general attacking quality, but even that department looks stretched at present. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is sidelined for a month with a knee injury, while the coach also conceded that Jefferson Farfan is "a definite non-starter" this weekend, having taken an ankle knock against PAOK. Christian Clemens could take the Peru international's place on the right flank, supporting lone frontman Adam Szalai.
Goals on the cards
For hosts Hannover, it has been business as usual so far, with a home victory over Lower Saxon neighbours Wolfsburg followed by an as away loss in Mönchengladbach last time out. "There are a lot of areas where we can still improve - but we have to give credit to Gladbach as well," commented coach Mirko Slomka, who will be racking up his 200th Bundesliga game on the touchline, all of them in charge of either Hannover or Schalke.
The 45-year-old is overdue a success against his former club, whom Hannover have failed to beat in their last five meetings, a longer winless run than against any other side in the division. Whatever the outcome of this one, however, the fans are more than likely to see the ball end up in the back of one or other net. None of the previous 48 top-flight meetings of this particular duo have ended goalless, and their last meeting produced a memorable 5-4 triumph for Schalke.
Hannover: Zieler - H. Sakai, Marcelo, Sané, Pander - Andreasen, Stindl - Bittencourt, Prib, Huszti - M. Diouf
Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Matip, Höwedes, Fuchs - Höger, J. Jones - Clemens, Draxler, M. Meyer - Szalai