The Italian coach has barely had more than three days in a row to work with his players without a game coming in between, such has been the Royal Blues' schedule since he took over in October. The winter break was therefore a welcome time for him to get his ideas across, while Hannover 96 will be keen to carry on where they left off in December, with five points from their last three games of 2014 raising hopes for a positive 2015.
Only three points separate the antagonists at the midway stage of the season with Schalke currently occupying a qualifying berth for the UEFA Europa League, which Hannover would certainly be keen on snatching from them come the end of the season. Both sides' respective European ambitions could well hinge on how well they get through the next seven days, packed with three games and potentially nine points.
only returned from the African Cup of Nations on Friday morning, but that is not to say he will not feature. "He's played three games in eight days so we've got to see how he feels," said Di Matteo. "We'll only decide whether he makes the squad after our final training session." New signing Matija Nastasic (see below) should make his debut, however, and Fabian Giefer (r.) is set to replace the injured Ralf Fährmann in goal.
A late flurry on the transfer market has seen Hannover boost their ranks with the return of a familiar face and added competition for Hiroki Sakai at right full-back. Neither Didier Ya Konan (l.) nor Joao Pereira are expected to start on Saturday, but their presence means those who do get picked cannot afford to put a foot wrong.
Di Matteo delved into his knowledge of the English Premier League to sign Nastasic (r.) from Manchester City FC this winter. Regarded as the missing piece in the puzzle, the Serbian defender has been brought in to shore up a defence which has leaked 21 goals so far this season - far too many for a side of Schalke's ambition. His wealth of experience will also help when Real Madrid CF come to town in the UEFA Champions League.
Bidding to give Nastasic and Giefer debuts to forget is Lars Stindl (l.). Since recovering from injury, he has become the heartbeat of the Hannover team, filling a void which had been left glaringly vacant ever since Szabolcs Huszti's departure. With assists on tap in the final two games of 2014, and three goals to boot, all of Hannover's attacking play filters through their attacking midfield mastermind.
(Schalke defender, pictured): "The sweating and intensive training is over - the whole team are now looking forward to the duel with Hannover."
Tayfun Korkut (Hannover coach): "We've got a chance to start the year positively and we've got to come away with something from Schalke."
Both coaches were keen to point out that warm-up games and Bundesliga fixtures are incomparable, yet a look at the results over the winter would cast Hannover in a favourable light. Korkut's men lost only to SV Werder Bremen, beating BSC Young Boys, FV Viktroia Plzen and FC Aarau during their training camp. Schalke, on the other hand, failed to win any of their three games, losing to AFC Ajax and SK Rapid Wien.
This game has been hard to predict in recent years with wins for the home team in the last four meetings. Historically, however, Schalke have the upper hand with 25 wins as opposed to 16 for Hannover. Their Rückrunde opener in 2013 was something of a classic, finishing 5-4 to the Royal Blues.
Schalke: Giefer - Höwedes, Kirchhoff, Nastasic - Uchida, Fuchs - Neustädter - Höger, Meyer - Boateng, Huntelaar
Hannover: Zieler - Sakai, Marcelo, Schulz, Albornoz - Gülselam, Schmiedebach - Briand, Stindl, Bittencourt - Joselu
Cast your minds back to the 2012/13 Matchday 18 clash between these two sides with highlights of that game, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel.