FC Schalke 04 vs VfB Stuttgart: Royal Blues look to improve recent form

Schalke 04 vs VfB Stuttgart: Royal Blues seek to improve on recent poor form

Roberto di Matteo’s men will be hoping to improve on their recent poor form of late, where they have failed to win in the Bundesliga since the 7th of March, a 3-1 victory over Hoffenheim. They host VfB Stuttgart tomorrow afternoon from 2.30pm, who are bottom of the table with 27 points from 30 games played.

With the hosts’ UEFA Champions League qualification hopes all but over now, they have to focus on solidifying a place in next season’s Europa League, with sixth placed Augsburg level on points with them and ready to pounce if they continue their inconsistent run until the end of the 2014-15 campaign.

They’ll be favourites to prevail against Stuttgart, not only because of the visitors’ lowly position in the table but also given their 4-0 thrashing away from home earlier on in the season. Their manager, Roberto di Matteo, had this to say: “We’ve got to exhaust every opportunity, even changing things, to ensure we qualify for the Europa League.”

Stuttgart boss, Huub Stevens, stated: “We’re not going to let ourselves get distracted [by internal matters]. I’m trying to get the lads back on the righ track after the disappointment of [their loss to] Freiburg. That’s what I’m here for. I know it’s going to be tense right down to the final day of the season.

Team News:

Schalke: The Royal Blues were put through their paces at a training camp earlier this week, after their disappointing defeat at the hands of Mainz 05 last Friday, thus jeopardising their European ambitions. Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan, Joel Matip and Sead Kolasinac were unable to take part in one or more of the training sessions, so di Matteo is believed to want to leave it late before deciding who will feature from the quartet of players.

Stuttgart: Serey Dié is back in contention for a start following a suspension, whilst Adam Hlousek is out with a ban of his own, meaning Gokotu Sakai will fill in at the full-back position, whilst Antonio Rudiger is set to start after having recovered from the flu.

Predicted starting line-ups:

Schalke: Fährmann, Höwedes, Kolasinac, Nastasic, Matip, Aogo, Neudstadter, Farfan, Meyer, Choupo-Moting and Huntelaar.

Stuttgart: Ulreich, Sakai, Niedermaier, Klein, Rüdiger, Harnik, Kostic, Gentner, Dié, Maxim and Ginczek.

FSV Mainz 05 2-0 FC Schalke 04: Stefan Bell’s first-half double seals a frustrating night for visitors

FSV Mainz 05 2-0 FC Schalke 04: Stefan Bell's first-half double seals a frustrating night for visitors

It was a battle between fifth and eleventh place on Friday evening, as Roberto di Matteo‘s men attempted to close the gap on their UEFA Champions League qualification rivals Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach in third and fourth respectively, which in essence would keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Europe’s elite alive.

With only a few matches of the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign left to go, neither side wanted to drop points, given their respective places in the table, and how close they were to their respective rivals. A win for the hosts would see them move into eighth above Hoffenheim, just five points behind Schalke in the table, so it’d be an intriguing watch, as S04 were eager to avoid their fifth straight draw.

Not much transpired in the early going, as both sides were trying to get a foothold in the match – with a lack of clear goal-scoring opportunities for either side in the early going. Schalke were forced into an early substitution after just twelve minutes, as Dennis Aogo replaced Marcel Hoger at defensive-midfield, in what looked to be an injury strain for the latter, who was taken off to avoid any further aggravation of his injury.

Leroy Sané came close to scoring after some quick footwork allowed him to get in-behind the Mainz defence, having been set through by Eric Choupo-Moting, but Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius was equal to the danger, reacting quickest to rush off his line and comfortably smother the ball in-between his gloves.

In the 21st minute, Mainz winger Ja-Cheol Koo had a speculative effort fizz wide from 25 yards out, having been given the opportunity and space to take an attempt on-goal, with goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann scrambling to his far post. It was a subtle warning to the visitors, who had been playing too deep in their own half and inviting pressure as well as giving their hosts time on the ball in the early going, although M05 were unable to do much of note with it, yet.

Then, in the 27th minute, a deflected shot flew over Fahrmann’s goal, out for a corner-kick. The set-piece was drilled into the box by Johannes Geis, and Schalke dealt with the danger poorly, allowing centre-back Stefan Bell to tap home from close range.

Three minutes later, the same thing occured again, as the hosts doubled their lead. Another corner was crossed into the area by Geis, Schalke defenders were standing looking helpless, not marking their men well enough, and Bell towered above his marker to head an effort into the back of the net. Fährmann got fingertips to the headed strike, but it was too powerful for him, and he could only watch on as he conceded for the second time in a matter of minutes.

Just a minute or so later, it seemed as though Mainz were about to strike again! This time it was Geis with a powerful free-kick effort, which floated past the wall and narrowly looked as though it skimmed Fährmann’s far post on the way out, hitting the advertising boards within a flash.

Nothing seemed to go in Schalke’s favour, and it looked to stay that way until the half-time whistle at least. An inviting set-piece was curled towards the head of Cameroonian centre-back Joel Matip, but he failed to connect with the cross and the Mainz players watched thankfully as the teasing ball flashed wide of their goal. Roman Neudstadter was the first player in the referee’s book for a cynical foul, and di Matteo’s side were visibly frustrated as they saw themselves two goals down, in a match they should have been drawing, at the very least.

As the second-half began, no changes were made by either manager, with the scores being at 2-0 to Mainz. The hosts continued to up the attacking ante from the end of the first 45, with Geis, Koo and striker Shinji Okazaki coming close from long range within minutes of each other. Talented young German Julian Draxler was introduced into the action with sixty minutes on the clock, in place of a rather ineffective Jefferson Farfán, as he continues his recovery from a long-term injury.

A teasing delivery into the box was flapped partially clear by Fährmann, into the path of Koo, whose effort cannoned off the crossbar from close range in the 70th minute. Then, a few minutes later, Geis saw a low free-kick bounce back off the upright, as his ambitious shot from range squirmed below the Schalke free-kick wall, and past the ‘keeper, but not past the post. Draxler and fellow midfield substitute Leon Goretska both came close, hitting the woodwork late on with respective efforts from range as the clock ticked down, just emphasising how much of a frustrating night it turned out to be for di Matteo’s men.

As the referee blew his whistle for the final time on Friday evening, that was it. A loud roar came from the home supporters, as their side won against a Schalke side that have only won one out of their last seven league matches.

FC Schalke 04 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Bellarabi effort gives visitors vital points

FC Schalke 04 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Bellarabi effort gives visitors vital points

A well-taken solo effort from German winger Kerim Bellarabi, with ten minutes to go until the half-time whistle at the Veltins Arena, sealed all three points for the visitors in their race for the highly-coveted UEFA Champions League spots. It was a rather cagey affair as the Royal Blues were not able to finish their chances, and Leverkusen certainly frustrated them throughout, holding firm with an essential clean sheet to ensure they took all three points; leapfrogging Borussia Monchengladbach who travel to defending champions Bayern Munich in tomorrow afternoon’s fixture in Munich.

Leverkusen defender Hilbert got the first yellow card of the match, for a tactical foul on young Max Meyer who was breaking with speed on the counter attack in the early going. He will miss their next matchday fixture, up against Hamburg after the international break.

Respective goalkeepers Bernd Leno (LEV) and Timon Wellenreuther (SCH) were called into action to deny goal-scoring efforts from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Bellarabi respectively, before the latter made the hosts pay in the 35th minute with a great strike beyond 19-year-old Wellenreuther. Simon Rolfes sent him on a run down the flank near the byline with a teasing ball, he weaved past two markers before cutting through into the box and smacking his effort in off the roof of the crossbar, to open the scoring in some style.

Schalke were unable to respond quickly enough before the break, and young promising striker Leroy Sané was replaced by Kevin-Prince Boateng just on the stroke of the half-time whistle in a tactical change before centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos also went into the referee’s book for a challenge on Huntelaar.

As the second-half began, Leverkusen made a double substitution; Calhanoglu and Toprak coming on in place of Son and Papadopoulous respectively. Austrian full-back Christian Fuchs had a superbly struck effort inches wide of Leno’s post, as Schalke upped the pressure on the visitors as the game went on.

Höger and Neustädter were both booked within quick succession before Leon Goretska was swiftly brought onto the field of play by the former Chelsea boss in an attacking-minded substitution.

A penalty decision was waved away by referee Peter Gagelmann as Bellarabi attempted to dribble his way past Ayhan in the area, before going to ground in the box. Just before that, winger Jefferson Farfan replaced Meyer for the closing stages, making his first senior team appearance for eight months following a serious injury lay-off, whilst Lars Bender came on in place of an ineffective Stefan Kiessling for Leverkusen.

In the last ten minutes of the match, Schalke continued to pile on the pressure, but eventually it came to no avail in the end. Boateng’s fierce goal-scoring effort was blocked by a Leverkusen wall of defenders in the box, with many Schalke players shouting at the referee for a penalty, as they felt it was handled in the air. Nothing was given, which just epitomises how their evening was overall. Frustrating, and in the end, Leverkusen stayed strong for a big victory.

As a result of the game, Schalke remain in 5th place – just below the Champions League qualification places but in contention for Europa League if they stay where they are for the rest of the season. 6th placed Augsburg lost away at Freiburg in the day’s earlier kick-off, meaning Roberto di Matteo‘s men were unable to capitalise and close the gap on the rivals ahead of them.