Munich - There's no shame in losing to two of the best teams in the world, but to go down with barely a whimper is an altogether graver tale: just ask FC Schalke 04.
'Can only apologise'
The Royal Blues fell to 6-1 and 5-1 defeats at the hands of Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern München respectively last week, leaving many questioning die Knappen's aptitude for the big occasion.
"Both of these opponents are a class apart, but even so, we shouldn’t have been beaten as comprehensively as we were," admitted captain Benedikt Höwedes regretfully in the wake of Saturday's embarrassment at the Allianz Arena. "We can only apologise to the fans for our performance."
Lest we forget, Schalke had been in excellent form prior to having their Gelsenkirchen abode ransacked by La Liga leaders Real in the UEFA Champions League, recording four league wins from five since the winter break, with only Bayern faring any better domestically in the same period. Yet when push came to shove, it was the Bavarians who prevailed one-on-one.
"It was nothing like what we expected. It was a horrendous week for us," lamented midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng after witnessing his side have any lingering winds of resolve knocked from their battle-weary sails on Matchday 23. "We've got to stick together."
Unfortunately, the midfielder's call for cohesion comes at a time when a handful of Royal Blue ambassadors have already been whisked away on international duty, himself included for Ghana's friendly with Montenegro. "I'd prefer to stay with the team," the 26-year-old admitted, keen to restore pride to the Schalke dressing room ahead of Saturday's clash with 1899 Hoffenheim, a game for which Jens Keller's men will have just 48 hours to prepare.
Long road ahead
In that regard, the question now becomes one of whether or not young Max Meyer and Co. are mature enough to turn such a demoralising pair of defeats into something positive going forwards. "We’ve got to leave these two games behind us now," affirmed Höwedes. “I hope we can forget about them before the next game and play like we did in the second half [against Bayern]."
Finishing fourth is clearly the priority in the short term - and a plausible one at that - but if the past week is a measure of Schalke's whereabouts in the grand scheme of things, Keller's side have a long way to go before they can even begin to think about getting one over on European behemoths Real and Bayern.
See for yourself where Schalke came up short against Bayern on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: