Munich - After sneaking their way into the top four on the final day of the 2012/13 campaign, FC Schalke 04 were seeking an altogether smoother ride this term.

The 2013/14 season, though, has been no less bumpy for a Knappen side sat seventh in the standings at the halfway point of the season.

The Royal Blues’ performances during the Hinrunde have not exactly set hearts racing, but after 17 games, they are nevertheless firmly in the mix at the right end of the table in a congested race for the European places. After finishing second behind Chelsea FC in UEFA Champions League Group E, Keller’s men are also one of four Bundesliga outfits through to the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition, where they will face Real Madrid CF.

In the midst of a backlog of injuries, Kevin-Prince Boateng has given the Schalke fans plenty to cheer since joining the club from Italian side AC Milan in August. The Ghana international enjoyed a winning debut against Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday 4, before opening his account in a 1-0 success away to 1. FSV Mainz 05 a week later - his first of five Bundesliga goals in 12 outings so far this term.

Die Knappen have twice thrown away two-goal leads so far this season. Keller’s side looked home and hosed against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Matchday 7, but instead had to settle for a 3-3 draw and suffered the same fate on Matchday 13 away to Eintracht Frankfurt. Had they held on for victory, Schalke would have gone into the winter break level on points with fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund.

“When you’re trailing 2-0 and chasing the ball like an idiot it’s pretty demotivating,” bemoaned Schalke left-back Dennis Aogo in the wake of his team’s one-sided reverse at home to Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München. The Royal Blues lost the game 4-0.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s impending return from a serious knee injury cannot come soon enough for the Royal Blues. The Dutchman scored twice on the opening day of the season against Hamburger SV, but was forced off a week later on Matchday 2. With Adam Szalai finding the net just five times in his absence, the 2011/12 Bundesliga top scorer’s nose for goal could prove decisive during the business end of the season.