Royal Blues head coach Jens Keller indicated that his charges will be summoning memories of their 3-0 defeat of the Romanians at the Veltins Arena on Matchday 1, rather than their two most recent performances in European competition - both of which ended in a 3-0 loss to Chelsea FC. “We obviously remember the 3-0 win over Steaua,” he pointed out in his pre-match press conference. “We’ve done well in the Champions League so far, apart from the two losses to Chelsea.”
'I want to prove my abilities'
The most recent Matchday 4 reverse at Stamford Bridge was a game in which Schalke started promisingly, but after keeper Timo Hildebrand’s error gifted the London outfit an opening goal, the hosts never looked back. Hildebrand has been ruled out of the clash with the Romanian champions due to a bruised hip, meaning Ralf Fährmann will make his first start since October’s 3-2 win over Eintracht Braunschweig on Matchday 8. “It’s good to be back in Europe again,” he said. “I want to prove my abilities.”
Since Fährmann’s last appearance in Braunschweig, however, domestic results have been mixed. A depressing home loss to local rivals Borussia Dortmund was followed by an impressive 2-0 win against Hertha Berlin, but the club then took two steps back in a 3-3 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt this past weekend, when Keller’s men surrendered a two-goal lead. "How we managed to throw the game away is beyond me,” bemoaned captain Benedikt Höwedes.
'Convinced we'll produce a good performance'
With qualification in Schalke’s own hands, a repeat of Saturday’s barmy encounter would be a body blow. On the other hand, a win here and a Chelsea victory in Basel would take the men from Gelsenkirchen through, and coach Keller wants to ensure that his side do not waste the opportunity to progress to the last 16 for the second successive season. “We’re doing everything to be prepared, and I’m convinced we’ll produce a good performance tomorrow,” he said.
Schalke might well have to come up with more than that, though, against a Steaua side sitting top of their domestic league without having lost all season. “Steaua made it very difficult for us in Gelsenkirchen,” recalled Keller. “You can be sure they’ll put in a good performance.” Fährmann echoed his comments, “they’re a difficult, aggressive opponent, but we need to be positive”.
Draxler and Boateng available
Along with the injured Hildebrand, youngster Leon Goretzka has not travelled due to illness, but Julian Draxler and Kevin-Prince Boateng are available, while Jefferson Farfan will make his European return after picking up an injury on Matchday 2 in Basel.
Although qualification is on offer, Keller was quick to stress that this game would not be decisive. “It’s not a final as such, but an opportunity to take a step closer to one of our big season goals.” Regardless, with Schalke lying sixth domestically, but second continentally, qualification for the knockout stages could certainly provide important impetus for a side which, this season, has yet to fully hit their stride.
FC Steaua Bucuresti: Tatarusanu - Georgievski, Szukala, Gardos, Latovlevici - Bourceanu, Prepelita - Popa, Stanciu, Tanase - Piovaccari
FC Schalke 04: Fährmann - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Aogo - Neustädter, J. Jones - Farfan, K-P. Boateng, Draxler - Szalai