Gelsenkirchen - With a chance to, temporarily at least, leapfrog Borussia Dortmund into second place, FC Schalke 04 will be hoping home comforts can aid their cause in Matchday 28’s curtain-raiser against Hertha Berlin (kick-off 19:30 GMT/ 20:30 CET).
The Royal Blues have won seven of their last eight encounters on home soil dating back to early November and will be confident of dispatching of a Berlin side currently in the midst of a .
Head coach Jens Keller is delighted with the way his team have been able to turn the Veltins Arena into a fortress, establishing a foundation for their assault on the European qualification spots in the second half of the season. “We’ve performed really well on home soil in recent weeks and it’s been a long time since we lost in front of our own fans,” said Keller. “We’re going to put on another strong performance when Hertha come to town.”
A 0-0 draw during midweek against arch-rivals Dortmund in the Revierderby has ensured that the race for second place is wide open heading down the final stretch. “It's all still to play for, we're only a point behind Dortmund and that's nothing,” said midfield starlet Julian Draxler. “However, we shouldn't start focusing on what other teams are doing. There are still games left to play and we’ve got to go full throttle against Hertha. We're obviously in a very good position though.”
Only FC Bayern München have collected more points than Schalke since the turn of the year, a run of form made all the more impressive when taking into account their lengthy absentee list, which will include suspended Berlin-native Kevin-Prince Boateng on Friday. “None of the injured members of our squad will be making a comeback on Friday,” explained Keller, who is already without the likes of Jefferson Farfan and captain Benedikt Höwedes. “Thank goodness no one else has pulled up lame.”
The capital city visitors are having to cope with a few injury issues of their own coming into the encounter, with Swiss international Fabian Lustenberger “definitely unavailable” according to head coach Jos Luhukay. Furthermore, there are questions surrounding the fitness of Christoph Janker and top goalscorer Adrian Ramos, who picked up a knock in Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat to league leaders FC Bayern.
Kraft: "Fully focused"
The midweek result marked the first time Hertha had lost three consecutive matches during Luhukay’s reign, but goalkeeper Thomas Kraft is undeterred despite conceding three goals in each of his last three games against Hannover, Gladbach and the Bundesliga champions. “Those teams are, at present, of a different pedigree, which is why they’re currently in the top half of the table,” admitted the 25-year-old. “But we’re a team that makes life very difficult for other sides and now we’re fully focused on Schalke.”
In light of his side’s recent dip in form, Luhukay has remained realistic in his statements to the press underlining that “in spite of us exceeding expectations, we’re still going to reach our limit at times”. However, the Dutchman is urging his side to bounce back this weekend. “The team learned a lot and gained invaluable experience from the game against Bayern,” said Luhukay. “The team have proved what they’re capable of and can do so again if they push themselves to the limit on Friday.”
Schalke Fährmann - Hoogland, Ayhan, Matip, Kolasinac - Neustädter, Goretzka - Obasi, M. Meyer, Draxler - Huntelaar
Hertha: Kraft - M. Ndjeng, S. Langkamp, Brooks, Holland - Hosogai, Skjelbred - Allagui, Ronny, N. Schulz - Ramos
Check out EA SPORTS FIFA 14 prediction of the Matchday 28 curtain-raiser on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: