Many football fans had already earmarked FC Schalke 04 for relegation by the end of the first half-season. They were thrashed 6-1 by Leipzig on Matchday 17, by which point S04 had only nine points on the board. But coach Thomas Reis has now guided his charges into safer waters: the Royal Blues are unbeaten in eight matches and have narrowed the gap to the non-relegation places.
One of the reasons for their success is their much-improved defence. Schalke conceded the most goals in the first half-season (41), but they have been breached only seven times in the second half-season – the second-best record in the league (behind 1. FC Union Berlin, 6).
Last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Bayer 04 Leverkusen was the first time FC Schalke 04 have failed to pick up points in the second half of the season. Thomas Reis has put the result to the back of his mind and is focusing on the clash with TSG: “Defeats are never nice. We had stabilised, not lost for a long time and now we were inferior to a good opponent. We’ve analysed it, the team was very self-critical. I’m expecting Hoffenheim to be very self-confident. They’re extremely dangerous and undertake a lot of positional changes. The squad should actually be competing at a different level, but now they’re a direct rival and we’d like to pick up points.”
On Sunday, coach Thomas Reis will have more options at his disposal once again. Winter signing Tim Skarke already made his comeback against Leverkusen, while defenders Moritz Jenz and Thomas Ouwejan could return to the squad against Hoffenheim. Central defender Jenz, who arrived in Gelsenkirchen over the winter, has proven to be a particularly important player. S04 have not yet lost a single match in which the 23-year-old has played.
TSG coach Pellegrino Matarazzo has also praised the next opponent: “Schalke are doing very well at the moment, they had an unbelievable run. They’re especially stable in defence and then switch quickly. We want to impose our game and shift the play into the opposition half.”
TSG Hoffenheim should therefore be wary of Schalke, whose current team bears little resemblance to the one that lost twice to TSG in the space of five days back in October.