Vienna/Gelsenkirchen - As disappointing as Saturday's friendly defeat to SK Rapid Wien may have been, FC Schalke 04's players and coach preferred to look at the bigger picture ahead of the Bundesliga's resumption next weekend.
The Royal Blues surrendered a 1-0 lead against the Viennese outfit to lose 2-1 at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, but coach Roberto Di Matteo took consolation in seeing one more time where his team needs to improve ahead of the Rückrunde, which gets underway in six days' time.
Revenge mission against Hannover
Schalke's next opponents, Hannover 96, will represent a rather stiffer challenge, and even though the Lower Saxons also flattered to deceive in their most recent friendly - a 3-2 loss to SV Werder Bremen that included some inexplicable defensive errors - Schalke will be mindful of a team that out-thought and out-competed them on the season's opening day. Hannover's 2-1 win came as a surprise back in August, but it effectively started the club's poor run of results that led to the dismissal of Jens Keller as coach and the arrival of Di Matteo as his replacement. The Italian has stabilised the team since then, however, and despite losing in Vienna, Di Matteo is happy with the progress his side is making, and with the options at his disposal for the trip to the HDI Arena.
"It was important that one or two players like Matija Nastasic and Atsuto Uchida got some minutes under their belts again, " said the 44-year-old. "I'm also pleased that Joel Matip is back and was able to feature after being out for so long." Cameroon international Matip had missed eight of the last nine league games with a foot injury, which also ruled him out of the Africa Cup of Nations. Despite the team failing to win a mid-season friendly for a third time this winter, club captain Benedikt Höwedes was happy that the game "showed us where we're a little bit short and where we need to improve. We'll make sure we draw the right conclusions from the game and put the hard work in to iron out those weaknesses."
Recognition for Huntelaar
There was a brief moment of concern for Di Matteo when star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was withdrawn from the action at half-time in the Austrian capital complaining of pain in his thigh, but sporting director Horst Heldt immediately put any fears over the Dutchman's fitness to rest. "His substitution was just a precaution as we didn't want to risk anything." Meanwhile, 31-year-old Huntelaar's goal against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League has been nominated for goal of the year on German TV broadcaster ARD's Sportschau. programme. Despite the game ending 6-1 to the Spaniards, the former Madridista gave the Royal Blues fans something to shout about with an outrageous volley that went in off the underside of the bar.