Time for a closer look at our opponents:
The campaign to date has seen Schalke clock up the least number of points for 17 years. However, they are just four points away from seventh place that would ensure qualification for the Europa League if Borussia Dortmund win the DFB Cup. So the Royal Blues have not given up hope of returning to the European stage next term – even though the club is still recovering from the Europa League exit against Ajax at the quarter-final stage of the competition.
Schalke have struggled with injury problems throughout the current campaign. At the start of the campaign, new star signing Breel Embolo was ruled out for the whole season with Abdul Rahman Baba, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Naldo also unavailable for a long time. They are joined on the sidelines by probably the best Schalke player this term as Leon Goretzka suffered concussion and an injured jaw against Ajax. The youngster Thilo Kehrer is currently serving a suspension.
In addition to Goretzka, Guido Burgstaller, signed from FC Nürnberg, has been a stand-out player since the winter break. In last weekend’s 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig, he made his first start alongside Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who is in his seventh, and disrupted, year at Schalke. He celebrated his return against Leipzig with an impressive strike and he could be the X-factor in the season run-in. He definitely shows no lack of motivation in spite of the threat of relegation: “I’ll continue to be ambitious to my dying day,” he declared recently.
The team coached by Markus Weinzierl has failed to make the most of their matches on the road this season. Across all competitions, the Royal Blues have only won one of the last eight games away from home and three of the last four Bundesliga games are not in Gelsenkirchen.
If Schalke overcome their indifferent away form and go on a run they could still end up in a Europa League spot. The match at Bayer 04 is followed by games against Freiburg, Hamburg and Ingolstadt that could be seen as an easier prospect compared with their many rivals. So the Schalke fans cannot give up hope just yet. Of course, a defeat at the BayArena would certainly change the outlook for the Royal Blues.
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