Cologne - Despite a turbulent first season-half at the Veltins Arena, FC Schalke 04 are well-positioned to qualify for the UEFA Champions League once again. takes a closer look at the Royal Blues' 2014/15 Hinrunde...

After securing Champions League football for the third year in a row courtesy of a top-three finish, Schalke went into the campaign with the intention of closing the gap on champions FC Bayern München. Tranquillo Barnetta and Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting were brought in take the goal-scoring weight off the shoulders of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but otherwise Jens Keller (pictured) was calling on the same ruck of players he had at his disposal in 2013/14.

Die Knappen had to wait until Matchday 5 to pick up their first league win of the season, but that wasn't enough to spare Keller his job, the 44-year-old having been relieved of his duties a week later. The subsequent appointment of Roberto Di Matteo has since steadied the ship, with the Ruhr district outfit going in at the winter break in fifth, level on points with fourth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach, and with a last-16 clash against Real Madrid CF to look forward to in the Champions League.

Click here for a statistical analysis of Schalke's season so far...

Top facts

  • Schalke are the most clinical team in the league, averaging just seven shots per goal.
  • No club has scored more headers than the Royal Blues' nine.
  • Only FC Bayern have conceded fewer goals from free kicks (two) than Di Matteo's men (three).

Flop facts

  • Schalke have won fewer corners (52) than any other team in the league.
  • Die Knappen have allowed more shots on their own goal than any other club (277).
  • Not other team has allowed the opposition to put in as many crosses as Schalke (255).

Best of social media

Choupo-Moting (pictured) has been a revelation since moving to the Veltins Arena from 1. FSV Mainz 05 in summer 2014. The Cameroonian international striker has scored nine league goals so far this term, with six of them coming after Matchday 12, and appears to have struck up a particularly good understanding in attack alongside Huntelaar. The Hamburg-born star has also chipped in with four league assists.

Best quote

"We’re the perfect foil for each other. Last week the 'Hunter' scored a hat-trick against Mainz, now I did the same against Stuttgart."

- Choupo-Moting bagged the first treble of his career against Stuttgart on Matchday 13, a week after Huntelaar had netted a hat-trick against Mainz.

Best match

Matchday 14: VfB Stuttgart 0-4 FC Schalke 04

Choupo-Moting's hat-trick helped the Royal Blues record their first away victory under Di Matteo at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, with Max Meyer was also on target against former Schalke head coach Huub Stevens' south-west strugglers.

The first-round DFB Cup exit to Third Division side SG Dynamo Dresden behind them and the Di Matteo era steadily slipping into gear, Schalke will look to take their blossoming late Hinrunde form into the second half of the season. The top four remains the priority and with a whole host of players still to return from injury, die Knappen should be suitably equipped for the job.