Gelsenkirchen - FC Augsburg against FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 27 had been billed as perhaps the final chance for both sides to keep their fading hopes of a top-four finish alive.

In front of a packed house in the SGL Arena, however, neither seized the moment and the 0-0 draw went down as not just one of the season's more forgettable encounters but also, and more importantly for Schalke, a potentially costly missed opportunity.

End of an era?


Augsburg's stated goal remains survival and to establish themselves as a top-flight side, so there will be no gnashing of teeth should they miss out on European football altogether this season, let alone the top four.

For Schalke, however, finishing outside the UEFA Champions League places would not only fail to satisfy the remit of Roberto Di Matteo on his appointment as coach; it would also mean that a squad of immense talent, one that recently beat Real Madrid CF in the Bernabeu, will be absent from European football's top club competition next term, for the first time since 2011/12.

Can Bayer or Gladbach be reined in?


With the top two more or less guaranteed, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach are the teams scrapping over third and fourth place, but the numbers make grim reading for fans of a blue and white persuasion. Schalke have recorded just one win in their last seven league encounters and are yet to win away from home in 2015, with Sunday's stalemate in Bavaria leaving them eight points adrift of Bayer 04 Leverkusen in fourth, with just seven games to play.

Leverkusen, by contrast, boast five league wins on the trot, all without conceding a goal, and are unbeaten in 90 minutes [they exited the UEFA Champions League against Club Atletico de Madrid on penalties] in any competition since mid-February. Gladbach, two points ahead of Bayer in third, are arguably in even better form, having won away at FC Bayern München and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim recently, results that have helped put them joint-top of the 2015 form table.

History against the Royal Blues


It is not just the form guide that suggests the season will end in disappointment for the Gelsenkirchen side. Since 1995-96, when the rule of three points for a win was introduced, an average tally of 58.1 points has been enough to finish fourth. Already, however, that leaves Schalke needing at least six wins from their remaining seven games to reach the 58-point mark.

It should be pointed out that Gladbach and Leverkusen may well drop points between now and the end of the season. The Foals are still to play Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg, as well as Leverkusen, while Bayer entertain league leaders FC Bayern on Matchday 31. Both of them still have too, meaning Schalke will likely be given an opportunity to claw back some of the eight-point deficit.

No more room for error


More encouragingly, the Royal Blues' run-in is markedly easier than that of their rivals. Six of their seven games are against sides currently placed 12th or worse, and with players returning to form such as Jefferson Farfan and Julian Draxler, Di Matteo can justifiably target six victories and 18 points.

He may well have to, however, considering their other game is a trip to second-placed Wolfsburg, who are unbeaten in 19 at the Volkswagen Arena. It remains in Schalke’s hands to secure Champions League qualification, therefore, but for how much longer?

Bernie Reeves