Group E campaign underway at home to FC Steaua Bucuresti on Wednesday evening, looking in an altogether healthier place than they did a few short weeks ago.
Kevin-Prince Boateng's instantaneous impact in the Royal Blue engine room following his surprise move from AC Milan at the end of August has been integral to the team's recent improvement following a decidedly shaky season start. And the formative experiences of the club's new No.9 in his three years with the Serie A giants are likely to prove every bit as valuable on the big European stage as they have so far on the home front.
Milan's loss, Schalke's gain
While the player himself is evidently delighted to be "home at last", many a fan of the club he left behind in Italy was altogether less enthused by the news of his departure. Boateng signed up for Milan in the summer of 2010 burdened with the reputation of having something of a wayward streak. All that was forgotten however by the end of his first season in the Lombardy capital, with the team freshly crowned champions of Italy and Kevin-Prince hailed as the league's newcomer of the year.
The Berlin-born Ghana midfielder's performance at US Lecce early the following season helped cement his cult status with the Milan Tifosi. With the modest provincial outfit leading their distinguished visitors 3-0 down in the heel of Italy, he came off the bench to haul the Rossoneri level with three goals inside the space of 14 minutes, becoming only the second Serie A substitute ever to score a hat-trick in the process. Milan went on to win 4-3.
Man for the big occasion
Displaying an increasing maturity and willingness to take on the mantle of onfield leader, he also made a clean break with past indiscretions, stressing that now, "All I'm thinking about, all the time, is my job." The fans responded to his output at the office with dedicated chants and banners bearing slogans such as 'Big Bang Boateng.'
After two excellent seasons, often performing in tandem with the equally imposing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Boateng, like the rest of the team, suffered somewhat from the drop-off in squad quality resulting from the Milan management's radical austerity programme. He did manage a fine goal in a first-leg victory over Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, but the Serie A men were shot down in the return at the Camp Nou.
Hours before wrapping up his move to Schalke, Boateng checked out at Milan with two goals against PSV Eindhoven to help ease the seven-time European champs into the group phase of this season's competition. Now, his attention is focused firmly on maintaining that form at Europe's top table with the Royal Blues.