The Royal Blues have started the second half of the season strongly with seven points from three games, and are now unbeaten in their last five league outings
The Royal Blues have started the second half of the season strongly with seven points from three games, and are now unbeaten in their last five league outings

Schalke edge Gladbach in top four hunt

Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 took a major step towards a top-four finish by beating Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 at the Veltins Arena.

Barnetta strikes early

Tranquillo Barnetta marked his 250th Bundesliga appearance with the early goal, as Schalke’s well organised defence dominated Gladbach in the first half. The entrance of Ibrahima Traore after an hour looked to have sparked the visitors into action, but it was in fact Kevin-Prince Boateng who enjoyed the best chances to add to the hosts’ lead.

Despite four changes from their midweek draw in Munich, Robert Di Matteo’s Schalke took only ten minutes to land the first punch. After Gladbach’s confident start brought nothing by the way of chances, a wonderful piece of skill from Boateng on the right-hand side was followed by an equally excellent cross, with the onrushing Barnetta providing a simple finish at the front post to send a sell-out home crowd into raptures.

Unbowed by the early setback, the Foals dominated the following quarter of an hour. Granit Xhaka tested home debutant Timon Wellenreuther from distance in the 16th minute, while moments later, a backtracking Benedikt Höwedes was called into evasive action to clear a threatening Thorgan Hazard cross. The Schalke captain again denied Gladbach when his acrobatic clearance prevented Patrick Herrmann going one-on-one with Wellenreuther, as the visitors’ dominance of possession failed to translate into any gilt-edged opportunities.

Possession, possession, possession

With Gladbach failing to break down a Schalke back three that was winning more than 80 per cent of its individual duels, Di Matteo’s charges began to look more menacing on the break. Although former Schalke man Raffael blazed over for Gladbach, it was Joel Matip in the 38th minute who should have netted with a header, while Barnetta also came close to doubling the lead, denied by Oscar Wendt after a surging counter minutes before the break.

The tactical chess continued with the resumption of the second half. Schalke were content to sit deep and allow Gladbach possession, forcing Raffael, bristling with intent, too deep too often. Despite enjoying 70 per cent of second-half possession by the hour mark, Gladbach had only mustered one shot through Max Kruse, blocked by Höwedes, while Boateng had spurned an opportunity at the other end.

Boateng comes close

The introduction of Traore in the 62nd minute sparked the visitors into life. With his first touch the Guinean tested Wellenreuther from close range, and although the youngster dealt with it comfortably, chances now began to fall with increasing regularity on both sides. Boateng twice came close, once denied brilliantly by Xhaka at full stretch, and then putting a free header over the bar in the 73rd minute after Barnetta turned provider.

Traore again called Wellenreuther into action with a wicked free kick ten minutes from time, but it was one of the few late occasions when the young custodian was needed. As had been the case throughout, Schalke’s well organised defence foiled the visiting attack, ensuring they leapfrogged the Foals in the standings to tighten their grip on a UEFA Champions League qualification spot.

Line-ups and statistics

Daniel Thacker