Munich – Prey cannot feel safe when a predator is on the prowl, and with the return of Klaas-Jan 'the Hunter' Huntelaar at the weekend, the same can be said for Bundesliga defences.
The 30-year-old ended five and a half months of injury agony with the opening goal in the Gelsenkirchen side's 3-0 win at Hamburger SV on Saturday, his mere presence alone making Schalke that bit meaner.
"You could see how much respect Hamburg had for him," surmised Schalke coach Jens Keller to bundesliga.com. "This aura has been lacking for us in recent months. A Klaas in this kind of condition is worth its weight in gold." Indeed, the impression is that the Royal Blues are more formidable when the Dutchman is leading their attack.
Midfielder Max Meyer admitted as much on Sunday. "You can see that when he's on the field, we have another attitude," said the 18-year-old. "The team is more lively. His presence is very important for us." So how far can Huntelaar's presence be proven statistically? As a matter of fact, Schalke are not necessarily stronger than they are without the Bundesliga's top goalscorer from 2011/12 in their side.
Since the start of last season, Schalke have played 29 matches without Huntelaar and 23 with the Dutchman. The statistics are practically identical: 1.65 points per game compared to 1.66, and 1.87 goals compared to 1.72. Yet there is something more to the marksman which cannot be reflected in numbers. "His presence alone does us the world of good," said Keller after watching 'The Hunter' grab goal number 50 in 85 games for Schalke.
His mere presence influences the way Schalke play. In the three games this season with Huntelaar, Schalke have scored twice from crosses. In 15 games without him, just three of their goals have come via the wings. His aerial ability is no secret to anybody, least not his own team mates. Eighteen of his 50 goals have come with his head. Looking at last season, the statistics are even clearer with an average of 13 crosses per game with him, and only eight without.
Strangely enough, it is Hamburg who have paid the price with Huntelaar's last six goals all coming against the northern Germany side: One on Saturday, two on Matchday 3 and a hat-trick at the end of last season. Adam Szalai also suffered on Saturday, being demoted to the bench despite scoring five goals in the first half of the season, and showing more of an inclination to help the team defensively: the Hungarian averaged 29 tackles per game compared to Huntelaar's 25.
Nevertheless, with Huntelaar back, there is a new degree of optimism around Gelsenkirchen. "We missed him for nearly all of the first half of the season, and now I just hope he remains injury-free," said the club's sporting director Horst Heldt. That is a view shared by many, not least the 30-year-old who is setting his sights high. "We want to qualify for the Champions League," he said. "We've got to put a run together now. We knew our rivals had dropped points and this was a big chance for us." A chance which was taken with the fear factor back in Schalke's game.