Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 finished the match with ten men but nevertheless secured the desired winning start to the Bundesliga Rückrunde thanks to a 1-0 home win over Hannover 96.
The visitors were the dominant side for long spells but wasteful finishing meant they ultimately had no reply to Marco Höger’s 32nd minute strike, despite Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s dismissal late in the second half.
The home line-up bore little resemblance to the Schalke side which lost away to Hannover back on Matchday 1, with only Huntelaar, Eric Maxim Choup-Moting, Benedikt Höwedes and Roman Neustädter in the starting XI once more. They were joined by new recruit Matija Nastasic, playing on the left side of a back three alongside Höwedes and Jan Kirchhoff, and Fabian Giefer, who made his debut in goal.
After an initial period of sparring to shake of the cobwebs of the winter break, it was Hannover who settled first and their aggression in midfield and high pressing put the hosts on the back foot. Leonardo Bittencourt and Joselu were particularly lively, although they were unable to create any clear-cut chances. 19-year-old Max Meyer, making his 50th Bundesliga appearance, was Schalke’s best attacking outlet on the left wing, but the Royal Blues’ play lacked cohesion and they didn’t trouble the visiting goal in the opening half hour.
That would soon change, however, when the guests failed to clear their lines in defence. Christian Fuchs was allowed to pull the ball back from the by-line on the left side of the penalty area and his pass found Höger, who side-footed into the net from the edge of the box. Schalke went close to adding to their lead through Kirchhoff and Höger, and had Höwedes to thank for keeping the scoreline intact after his last-ditch tackle robbed Joselu of the ball just when he was about to tap the equaliser into an empty net.
If Di Matteo’s side went into the break with the upper hand, it was Hannover who seized the initiative after the interval, again pressing high up the pitch and denying their hosts any room to manouevre. Joselu spurned another glorious opportunity to level after an outstanding counter-attack by Jimmy Briand, who covered almost the entire length of the pitch before feeding the Hannover No11, who could only shoot straight at Giefer.
No way through
The match developed into an open, end-to-end affair and goalscoring chances began arriving in quick succession. Christian Schulz went close for Hannover with a sliced header that beat Giefer but bounced off the line as it was carrying so much spin, while Zieler pulled off two excellent saves from Nastasic and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Hannover perhaps sensed it wasn’t their day when another opportunity failed to find the net after Briand shot wide following a lovely pass from Bittencourt. To their credit, the guests continued to push for an equaliser until the final whistle, but Schalke held firm - despite Huntelaar’s late sending off for a rash tackle from behind - to bank all three points and start the second half of the season on a high ahead of their trip to FC Bayern München on Tuesday.
Line-ups and statistics