Gelsenkirchen - Deflated doesn't even begin to describe the mood inside the FC Schalke 04 camp as they prepare to welcome 1899 Hoffenheim to the Veltins Arena on Saturday (kick-off 14:30 GMT/ 15:30 CET).
'Still a chasm'
Die Knappen may be putting on a brave face, but there's no questioning back-to-back 6-1 and 5-1 defeats to European giants Real Madrid CF and Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München have hit the Ruhr district dwellers hard.
"We messed up as a team," admitted Schalke midfielder Roman Neustädter. "Both sides exposed our limitations, of course. There's still a chasm between the world-class teams and us. We know how to interpret the results, but we also know what we did wrong. We have to draw a line under the games and learn from them."
Neustädter's frank appraisal is a far cry from what he or his team-mates might have had to say prior to last week's whitewash. Aside from league leaders Bayern, Schalke were the form team of the Rückrunde, marching up the league ladder and into the top four by virtue of four wins from five post-winter outings. It's a points-to-game ratio the Royal Blues are determined to deliver yet again in the decisive months ahead.
'The right response'
"We have to banish the negative thoughts from our heads," explained Schalke head coach Jens Keller. "After the Munich game we went over the mistakes in great detail. I've spent a lot of time talking to the younger players and pinpointed their strengths. We have to look forward now and give the right response on the pitch against Hoffenheim."
Serving up said riposte, however, might be easier said than done against a Hoffenheim side that travel to Gelsenkirchen on the back of a headline-grabbing 6-2 success over Champions League hopefuls VfL Wolfsburg. Markus Gisdol's free-scoring team are now unbeaten in their last five league games since going down 4-0 to a rejuvenated 1. FC Nürnberg on Matchday 18.
'We don't expect any handouts'
"In the first half [against Wolfsburg] we played a near perfect pressing game, which forced Wolfsburg to relinquish possession time and again," beamed 1899 head coach Gisdol. "It's a pleasure to see how our playing style has developed. [...] We don't expect any handouts in the Bundesliga. Anyone in the top flight could have conceded five, six or seven in those games [against Real and Bayern]."
Appreciative words - depending on which way you look at it - shared to some extent by Gisdol's counterpart in the home dugout this weekend: "[Hoffenheim] are a really good attacking side, as they showed in the 6-2 win against Wolfsburg last time out, but they're vulnerable at the back. We have to make sure we find the right balance between defence and attack."
Schalke: Fährmann - Hoogland, Höwedes, Matip, Kolasinac - K.-P. Boateng, Neustädter - Farfan, M. Meyer, Draxler - Huntelaar
Hoffenheim: Casteels - F. Johnson, Strobl, Süle, Beck - Rudy, Polanski, Salihovic - Roberto Firmino - Volland, Modeste
See for yourself where Schalke came up short against Bayern courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: