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.