Gelsenkirchen - These two sides may share an unlikely friendship, but on the final day of the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign, FC Schalke 04 are unlikely to volunteer a helping hand to a 1. FC Nürnberg side on the cusp of being relegated from the top flight for an eighth time (kick-off 13:30 GMT/15:30 CET).
Schalke’s stars on cloud nine
The Royal Blues need just a point to secure an automatic berth in the UEFA Champions League group stages next season, but also face the prospect of condemning a club with whom they share a fan friendship to a record-breaking relegation.
Jens Keller’s men bounced back to winning ways on the penultimate weekend with a 2-0 win over SC Freiburg and confidence is not in short supply. “I’m determined to help the team reach our target," said club captain Benedikt Höwedes, who is hoping to make his comeback from a problematic thigh injury against Nürnberg. "We only need a point, but we’ll still look to put ourselves on the front foot and will definitely be playing to win. We won’t underestimate them. They’ll be doing everything they can to steer their ship to safety.”
Alongside Höwedes, the Royal Blues will boast three youngsters riding high following the announcement of for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka and all making the cut. “I’m delighted to have been selected,” said Draxler, who made his 100th Bundesliga appearance last weekend. “My aim is to show him [Löw] what I have to offer in the coming weeks, starting with the game against Nürnberg.”
Prinzen: 'I believe'
The omens aren’t good for the Franconian outfit, who haven’t beaten Schalke in 20 years. Even if they were to put an end to that miserable run of form in Gelsenkirchen, der Club would need 16th-placed Hamburger SV to drop points to stand a chance of surviving. Nevertheless, head coach Roger Prinzen hasn’t given up hope yet: “If I'd lost faith in my players we might as well pack it all in now. But I haven’t. Call me crazy, but I believe we can do it.”
The 45-year-old has a defensive headache on his hands with Javier Pinola, and Marvin Plattenhardt all suspended, while first-choice goalkeeper Raphael Schäfer will also miss out after injuring his shoulder in training. Midfielder Markus Feulner could still return to provide a timely boost, but regardless of who steps out on Saturday, Prinzen has promised Nürnberg will be “full of courage and belief” in the face of adversity. “I know how hard the task we’re facing is," Prinzen said. "But we’ve got one chance and I’m convinced that the team will give it everything they’ve got to save themselves.”
Schalke: Fährmann - Hoogland, Höwedes, Matip, Kolasinac - K-P Boateng, Neustädter - Goretzka, M. Meyer, Draxler - Szalai
Nürnberg: R. Schäfer - Pachonik, Nilsson, Petrak, Hlousek - Kiyotake, Feulner, Frantz, Mak - Drmic, Colak
This season's nail-biting relegation drama is living up to some of its thrilling predecessors from yesteryear. Take a look, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: