Gelsenkirchen - Both FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchengladbach find themselves in a must-win situation coming into Matchday 32’s curtain-closer (kick-off 15:30 GMT/17:30 CET), with the visitors desperate to keep their UEFA Champions League qualification hopes alive and the hosts embroiled in a long-distance battle for bragging rights against arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Boateng: “Got to be more aggressive”
The Royal Blues have to match the result of Ruhr neighbours Dortmund to retain any hope of finishing above them this season, even if head coach Jens Keller was uninterested in talk of other teams. “If we continue picking up our points, our competition can do what they want,” said the 43-year-old.
Though last week’s 3-1 loss to relegation strugglers VfB Stuttgart put a significant dent in Schalke’s top-two aspirations, the more painful memory for Keller proved to be the 2-1 defeat suffered against the Foals on Matchday 15. “We deserved to take a point from the game,” said the Stuttgart native, who soon turned his attention to Saturday’s encounter. “We’re on the verge of reaching our target. With our terrific fans behind us we want to take the next big step towards guaranteeing ourselves Champions League football next season.”
Indeed, with only Bundesliga champions FC Bayern München having picked up more points on their own patch this term than Schalke, who are unbeaten in ten games at the Veltins Arena, star midfielder believes the Royal Blues have emerged as a “force to be reckoned with” on home soil. “If we execute our gameplan then we’ll win as well,” explained the Ghanaian. “Maybe it was good we suffered a slight setback last weekend. We know now that we’ve got to be more aggressive, compact and can’t allow ourselves to make any small mistakes.”
Meyer fit, Huntelaar doubtful
Four points clear of fourth-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen and with three games left to play, Boateng, ambitious as ever, is refusing to settle for anything less than the maximum. “I’ll be satisfied if we’re still sitting in the top three come the end of the season, preferably on the back of winning our last three games,” said the no-nonsense midfielder. “For me though, the only thing that’s important is winning the next game.”
In terms of personnel, Schalke’s injury woes continue to worsen in spite of Max Meyer being given the all clear, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (throat infection) a doubt and Jefferson Farfan (allergic reaction) expected to join the likes of Kyriakos Papadopoulos on the sidelines. Gladbach head coach Lucien Favre, meanwhile, has a full squad to choose from, with the exception of Granit Xhaka (suspended), after defenders Martin Stranzl and Oscar Wendt made their respective comebacks in training.
The experience of the two fully-fledged internationals could prove crucial for the Foals, who haven’t won in Gelsenkrichen in over 22 years, their last victory coming back on 25 August 1992. However, Favre still believes his side are capable of getting a result on Sunday evening. “We’ll be prepared for any and every situation,” said the Swiss tactician. “We’ve got to defend well, counter efficiently and where possible dictate proceedings.”
Five points behind Leverkusen, the Foals have to win in order to retain any hope of clinching UEFA Champions League qualification, but Favre was quick to put the brakes on the rising expectations surrounding the club: “Three years after saving ourselves from relegation, we can’t be expected to be competing at the very top, that’s just not possible. We’ve still got work to do, but have improved in several areas and want to prove that by giving it our best on Sunday.”
Schalke: Fährmann - Hoogland, Ayhan, Matip, Kolasinac - K.-P. Boateng, Neustädter - Goretzka, M. Meyer, Draxler - Huntelaar
Gladbach: ter Stegen - Jantschke, Brouwers, Alvaro Dominguez, Daems - Kramer, Nordtveit - Herrmann, Arango - Raffael - M. Kruse
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