Schalke 04 will begin its Europa League play Thursday with a matchup against HJK Helsinki, without two of its key players. General manager Horst Heldt announced Wednesday that neither Raul nor Jermaine Jones would be traveling to Helsinki. Heldt told the media the decision not to play Raul was made some time back (and thus apparently unrelated to this week’s transfer bid), and that both Raul and Jones would not play because of HJK’s artificial pitch and injury fears. However, failure to play Raul can only fuel even more rumors.
Schalke should have no trouble handling the Finnish team, but with the Royal Blues, that’s usually a sign that there could be trouble. Helsinki come to Europa League play after losing two fairly close games against Dinamo Zagreb in third round qualifying play in the Champions League. Schalke comes to Europa Play from winning the German Cup, not from league standing (where they finished 14th last season).
If Huntelaar continues his form from the Köln game, if the young ‘uns Holtby and Draxler can pitch in as well, if the leaky defense of Schalke can shore itself up….but these are all pretty big ‘ifs.’
It may be a battleground of goalkeepers. The Helsinki keeper Ville Wallén was credited with a number of good saves in the last game against Zagreb, keeping them to one point. Ralf Fährmann is proving early on that he can tend the Schalke goal well.
I’m predicting a scoreless draw at Helsinki with Schalke 04 winning this round on the second leg trip to the Veltins.