Berlin – All eyes were on when his FC Schalke 04 side paid his former club Hertha Berlin a visit on Saturday, and although he was not the star of the show, he was nevertheless delighted to be on the winning team.
Since his childhood, Boateng had played almost without interruption for Hertha, with whom he started his professional career before moving to the Premier League six years ago to join Tottenham Hotspur FC. "I was really happy to be back here again," said the 26-year-old. "As I was getting warmed up before the game, I was looking around and remembering all the emotions, the many memories I had here."
The three points Schalke took away from the Oympiastadion will have provided Boateng with another fond recollection, even if not an aesthetically pleasing one. "We knew it would be a battle and it certainly wasn’t pretty," he said. In spite of the many chances for his ex-club, and despite Schalke’s early goal coming from a set-piece, Boateng felt his side had "risen to the challenge better, which is why it was a deserved win." It was, however, a somewhat fortunate three points for the Royal Blues with goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand taking the headlines.
Boateng, meanwhile, had a quieter day, operating out wide on the right. "It was a slightly unusual position for me, but the coach asked me if I’d play there," said Boateng. It’s a position he had filled several times in the past for AC Milan, although he felt he had probably done a better job there for the Rossoneri than he did on Saturday. "It probably wasn’t my best game,“ he admitted. Nevertheless, what mattered more than that "is that we have won again after losing our last two".
Schalke back on track
And that win is just what was needed ahead of a UEFA Champions League tie with Chelsea FC on Wednesday. Now the club can put derby defeat to Dortmund behind them and go into European action with a good feeling that their Bundesliga form is back in order. Keller's men are now sixth, just two points off fourth place.
Exactly how much of a boost it gives the team ahead of their trip to London remains to be seen, but the coach is certainly buoyed in particular by his side’s defensive display in the capital. "What my team can take out of this game is that, when they are compact and defend set-pieces well, it’s hard for anybody to score against us," he said.
'At least a point' at Chelsea
Boateng expects Wednesday in the British capital to be different to Saturday in Berlin, though. "Chelsea’s going to be another game altogether," he said. "We’re in London and we know what quality they’ve got." A defeatist attitude? Far from it. "We’re looking to get at least a point there," Boateng added. "We’re going to have to keep a clean sheet." Schalke then need to take one of the chances which Boateng expects them to create.
At least Boateng should be part of that game after proving that his niggling knee problem is not as bad as widely feared. "It’s getting better by the game," he said. "You just need games to get to full fitness and sharpness." And while the 26-year-old is not quite where he wants to be yet, he is happy with his progress: "I’m feeling good." Even more so after winning in his native city.
Andre Anchuelo / Ben Gladwell
Take a closer look at Schalke's shooting star Julian Draxler, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: