Gelsenkirchen - Matchday 30’s Friday evening curtain-raiser (kick-off 18:30 GMT/20:30 CEST) pits FC Schalke 04 against Eintracht Frankfurt, with the Royal Blues intent on staying hot on the heels of Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund in second place.
Jens Keller’s troops are unbeaten in their last six league outings dating back to the 5-1 humbling they suffered at the hands of Bundesliga champions FC Bayern München and are confident of extending that run at the Veltins Arena. “We’re an absolute powerhouse on home soil right now,” claimed Keller.
Matchday 10’s 3-1 defeat to BVB stands as Schalke’s last setback on their own patch. Since then they’ve gone on to pick up 25 points from a possible 27 in front of home support, and Keller was quick to credit the fans for the part they have played. “They’re like a rock solid wall which stands behind us and pushes us forward. It’s absolutely incredible,” praised the 43-year-old, whose side sit three points adrift of Dortmund following their 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen last weekend.
UEFA Champions League qualification remains the priority for the Royal Blues, who could conceivably be within two wins of clinching their place at Europe’s top table. “The important thing is that we continue to consistently rack up points,” explained Nigerian winger Chinedu Obasi. “We want to take our chances and ensure that we’re competing in the Champions League again next season. That’s why we’re only focusing on the task at hand. We’ve got to beat Frankfurt irrespective of what the teams around us do.”
Keller has urged his charges to “be alert” against a side who have “a lot of physical players”, but he can take heart from the fact that the Royal Blues haven’t lost in their last ten encounters under the Friday night floodlights. There was also positive news on the personnel front as Jefferson Farfan (knee) and Felipe Santana (torn muscle) returned to first-team training, although neither will be in contention for a starting berth.
However, Keller is hopeful that star duo Julian Draxler (calf) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Achilles), neither of whom were able to fully train on Wednesday, will be available. “We’ll have to see how they come through our final training session, but it looks good,” admitted Keller, whose counterpart Armin Veh has some selection headaches of his own with Johannes Flum ruled out and “question marks” surrounding the fitness of Carlos Zambrano and Pirmin Schwegler.
Learning from past mistakes
Frankfurt have managed to distance themselves from the relegation mire in recent weeks, winning three of their last four fixtures thanks in large part to the form of Spanish striker Joselu, who has scored five in his last five games. Veh is well aware that his side can’t think their job is done, however. “No, we’re definitely not going let up,” said the 53-year-old. “With 35 points no one can guarantee me that we’ll be in the top flight next season.”
Eight points clear of the drop zone with five games left to play has quelled the Eagles fears of suffering a repeat of their 2010/11 Rückrunde, which saw them demoted to Bundesliga 2. “Of course we took a huge step towards ensuring our safety with the win over Mainz, but at this stage of a season the only thing you can do is rely upon yourselves,” explained Veh. “We’re going to have to change things around a little bit and I hope that we’ll strike the right balance, but I have no doubt that the squad are well up for this encounter.”
Schalke: Fährmann - Hoogland, Ayhan, Matip, Kolasinac - Boateng, Neustädter - Obasi, Draxler, Goretzka - Huntelaar
Frankfurt: Trapp - S. Jung, Zambrano, Madlung, Djakpa - Russ - Lanig, Barnetta - Meier - Aigner, Joselu