Gelsenkirchen - They went into 2013/14 with high hopes, nay expectations, and after things threatened to go pear-shaped for a while, FC Schalke 04 came on strong down the final straight to hit their season target after all. has the skinny on a Royal Blue campaign that ended on a distinctly positive note...

One point from their opening three games made for a wobbly start, but the surprise signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng reaped instant rewards, with back-to-back victories over Leverkusen and Mainz. A home thumping off of FC Bayern on Matchday 6 was a salient reminder of the gulf to the very best, but a solid if not spectacular run of form saw the Royal Blues into the winter break in seventh place, five points shy of a top-three finish. A 3-0 win at Hamburg set the tone for an altogether more impressive second season-half and even another comprehensive defeat to Bayern didn't knock Jens Keller's quick-learning young guns out their stride as they went on to wrap up third place and that coveted Champions League automatic group stage berth.

Boateng's inspirational influence certainly puts him in the frame, but this was the season that came into his own between the posts at Schalke. With Timo Hildebrand struggling first for fitness then form, Fährmann personified the team's second season-half upswing. Eleven clean sheets and a string of spectacular saves saw the 25-year-old custodian finally come full-circle, having helped Schalke to the U-19 title in 2006. A new contract through to 2019 was his reward.

When he ran out at SC Freiburg on the penultimate matchday, Julian Draxler became the youngest player ever to rack up 100 appearances in the Bundesliga, at 20 years and 225 days old. The latest 26 of those, 25 from the start, came in the season just ended - the young Germany international's first in the Royal Blues' no10 shirt.

“This past week's cost me a few years. I don't want to know what might have happened if it hadn't turned out alright,” sporting director Horst Heldt reflected after Matchday 4's 2-0 home win against Leverkusen. Schalke's first Bundesliga victory of the season capped an eventful few days which saw them win at PAOK Saloniki to make the group phase of the Champions League, before announcing the signing of Boateng from AC Milan.

The return meeting with Leverkusen at the BayArena on Matchday 21 was equally significant in the context of the season as a whole. Six points down on their second-place hosts, Schalke prevailed in a tight contest to halve the deficit and take a major step closer to the battle for a top-three-finish, notching their fourth straight win in the process. Fresh confirmation of a fit-again Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's return to the scoring fold was just an added bonus.