Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 could be about to unearth a piece of top-four gold with victory over VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30CET).
Royal Blue optimism
The fifth-placed Knappen sit just two points shy of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Ruhr district rivals Borussia Dortmund ahead of Matchday 19’s blockbuster clash, after registering a demonstrative 3-0 win away to Hamburger SV last time out.
“We knew before the Hamburg game that teams around us had lost and we could make up ground on them,” recalled Schalke midfielder Roman Neustädter. “We concentrated on our game and put into action what the coach had asked of us. Now we have to do it against Wolfsburg.”
A repeat outcome would, at the very least, add further weight to the argument that the Royal Blues are going to be one of the teams to beat in the months ahead. Too often during the Hinrunde, Keller’s men flattered to deceive, but with poacher extraordinaire Klaas-Jan Huntelaar back on the goal-mining trail, the Schalke camp have reason to be optimistic.
“With the fans behind us and the added confidence boost following the Hamburg game, we are aiming to beat Wolfsburg,” affirmed Schalke head coach Jens Keller. “It’s a really important game. They’re one of our main rivals, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It won’t really tell you much if we go four points clear of the Wolves because there are still another 15 games to play.”
Keller’s tentative assessment is all the more understandable given sixth-in-the-table Wolfsburg’s mid-winter acquisition of former SV Werder Bremen and Chelsea FC midfielder Kevin de Bruyne. However, as coaching counterpart Dieter Hecking intimated at his customary pre-match press conference, dressing room envy is a common affliction in the star-studded world of the Bundesliga.
'The boys are ready'
“Schalke are a team with plenty of great individuals,” he said. “Huntelaar is back and made a great impression against Hamburg. Behind him you’ve got Max Meyer, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jefferson Farfan, who all have the ability to change a game [... They] have every right to stake their lofty claims to a place further up the table and it probably suits us to play them rather than a potential relegation candidate.”
Quite whether the 49-year-old is suggesting his side were guilty of being complacent in last Saturday’s surprise Lower Saxony derby defeat at home to travelsick Hannover 96 is open to interpretation, but there is certainly no questioning the Wolves’ desire to set the record straight at the Veltins Arena. “The boys are ready to do the job,” Hecking added. “It’s going to be a top game.”
Schalke: Fährmann - Höwedes, Felipe Santana, Matip, Kolasinac - K.-P. Boateng, Neustädter - Farfan, M. Meyer, Fuchs - Huntelaar
Wolfsburg: Benaglio - Träsch, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez - Arnold, Luiz Gustavo - Diego, de Bruyne, D. Caligiuri - Olic