The Royal Blues bust a gut last term just to get this far, but with a 1-1 draw all they could muster in front of their own fans in last week's first leg, the Gelsenkirchen representatives' season is now in serious danger of unravelling before it has even really begun.
"Completely different result"
"We fell behind because we defended badly in the situation that led to the opening goal," said Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt after taking in another disappointing day at the office at Hannover last weekend. Die Knappen slipped to their second defeat in as many league outings on Matchday 3, with defensive mishaps the recurring theme in a 2-1 reverse.
"It took us a while to get back in the game after [Benedikt Höwedes' red card] but then we conceded again from a set piece," Heldt continued. "We showed great morale in the second half, though, and played the way we had set out to from the outset [...] If [Adam] Szalai or [Tim] Hoogland had taken their chances to equalise, it could have been a completely different result."
"Make it count"
As it is, Schalke are still to win in the league this season - never mind keep a clean sheet - but the Royal Blue camp nevertheless remain confident of getting the job done in sun-baked Thessaloniki. "We started the campaign with the intention of mixing it with Europe's best," explained head coach Jens Keller. "Now we have the chance, we have to make it count."
Should they fail, a place in the UEFA Europa League awaits, but if the Royal Blue remit is anything to go by, that simply will not happen. "We're here to win," asserted Heldt, buoyed by the news that Jefferson Farfan, Atsuto Uchida, Joel Matip and Leon Goretzka have been given the all-clear. That PAOK fell to promoted outfit Panetolikos at the weekend was just a bonus.
PAOK: Jacobo - Kitsiou, Katsouranis, Miguel Vitor, Lino - Lazar, Tziolis - Oliseh, Lucas, Stoch - Salpingidis
Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Santana, Höwedes, Fuchs - Höger, Jones - Farfan, Draxler, Clemens - Szalai