Gelsenkirchen - With both teams having opened their 2014 Bundesliga account with back-to-back victories, something has to give when FC Schalke 04 play host to Hannover 96 in Sunday's Matchday 20 closer (kick-off 17:30 CET).
Ahead of the sides' 50th top-flight encounter, home coach Jens Keller stressed that "we're not getting carried away by the good start", before making equally plain that the Royal Blues are "fully on focused on making it three wins in a row." The formula for their success in the last two games against Hamburg (3-0) and Wolfsburg (2-1) meanwhile has been straightforward: "The team have formed a closer bond and they've put in a lot of hard work."
They will have to continue in the same vein, Keller warned, to take anything from a Hannover side who "have likewise been quick out the blocks, and beaten two strong teams in Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg. They sit very deep and wait for you to make a mistake and they've got two exceptionally quick frontmen in Artjoms Rudnevs and Mame Diouf - we can't afford to give them any space," added the Royal Blues' coach.
Keller will be hoping Benedikt Höwedes and Sead Kolasinac are able to take up their accustomed places in the defence, both having been afflicted with a muscle problem in the build-up to Sunday's game. However, full-back Atsuto Uchida is definitely available again following suspension. At the sharp end of the action, a fit-again Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is set to spearhead the home attack and will be eager to add to the goal he netted on his comeback at Hamburg a fortnight ago.
Bittencourt on a roll
For their part, the visitors will be more confident of coming away from Gelsenkirchen as victors than they might have been before the beginning of the Rückrunde. Hannover's first game under Tayfun Korkut earned them their very first away points of the campaign - and a maximum haul at that - as they saw off regional rivals VfL Wolfsburg, while the follow-up success against Borussia Mönchengladbach leaves the new coach boasting a 100 percent record in the Bundesliga.
That particular statistic is of little importance to the Stuttgart-born former Turkey international however, who is more concerned with imparting the fact that, "the team know they can't afford to ease off." His players have no intention of doing so, considering their current form. "Everything's going well at the moment and the lads are all just really enjoying the football," fast-rising star Leonardo Bittencourt noted.
The fun factor will be put to the test once again by a Schalke side "you're never going to be able to just brush aside," according to Korkut, who was keen to stress that every member of his team "knows what has to be done." Taking the longer-term view, the coach also emphasised at the pre-match press conference that, "the goal remains the same - to end the campaign in peace and move swiftly on." Another victory at Schalke, though, and it might just be time to adjust their objectives.
Schalke: Fährmann - Höwedes, Matip, Felipe Santana, Kolasinac - Boateng, Neustädter - Farfan, Meyer, Obasi - Huntelaar
Hannover: Zieler - Rajtoral, Marcelo, Hoffmann, Schulz - Schmiedebach, Stindl - Huszti, Bittencourt - Rudnevs, Diouf