I am not one who believes that a team should rely on one or two players to make or break a game. A great team will have enough strength so that will not happen; a good team will learn to adapt when it does. Schalke’s performance against HJK Helsinki in the first leg of Europa League play was neither great nor good. Schalke’s come-from-behind win against undefeated Mainz this past Sunday in league play? Inspired! So what was the difference? Raul and Jefferson Farfan.
Raul was left at home when Schalke 04 traveled to Helsinki last week with the coach and general manager blaming an artificial pitch. However, with speculations about Raul’s traveling somewhere (probably England), his failure to travel to Helsinki was a black cloud hanging over the club. Raul’s statement this week that he planned to fulfill his contract with Schalke (not a passionate statement, but a commitment nonetheless) at least dispelled some gloom for now, and his presence on the pitch against Mainz, while unfruitful, was still felt. It was Raul’s unselfish assist to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar that set up Schalke’s first goal.
Farfan had been sidelined with injury since before the season even started, and it was with some glee that fans saw him take to the pitch in the second half against Mainz. It was Farfan, more than Raul, who really seemed to spur the team on, never giving up on his drives, always looking for an opportunity. It was a Farfan corner kick in the 64th minute that led to Benedikt Höwedes’ header that equalized for Schalke and another in the 81st minute that led to Matip’s header for the go-ahead.
Also missing from Helsinki but traveling to Mainz was Christian Fuchs, who missed the Europa League game on suspension. Fuchs, booed throughout the game at his former club, answered those jeers with a hammered-in goal in a 90-minute free kick.
So, what does the comeback against Mainz mean for Schalke’s match Thursday against HJK Helsinki? Well, I could be cheeky and suggest that it means two things: 1) Schalke should only play the second half; and 2) Schalke should only wear the blue kit (S04 fans are convinced the fuchsia ‘ultra beauty’ kit is unlucky).
To be honest though, we should have some things in our favor for this match that we did not have in the first. We’re at home and apparently Raul, Farfan and Fuchs are back in the mix. All of that should bode well for Schalke. I also continue to have faith in the young guns — Lewis Holtby, Julian Draxler and Kyriakos Papdopoulos. On the other hand, even though Huntelaar may be tied with Demba Papiss Cisse for most goals in the league so far this season (at four), he really needs to get a bit more speed. And can we get a counterattack some time, boys? In the first half?
Schalke will need to score three unanswered goals against a Helsinki side I was very impressed with last week. That means Ralf Fährmann will need to be on top of his game and insure that HJK get no away goals. Fährmann’s shown that he can dominate the net. But in Sunday’s match, he also showed his youth with a horrible stop (or a horrible clearance, however you want to look at it) that set up an easy second goal for Mainz.
Either way, I don’t seem to have near the confidence that Rangnick showed after the Mainz victory, telling the press: “If you can score four goals in Mainz after being 2-0 down at halftime, then you can also score four goals against Helsinki. If we score four goals against HJK, we can even concede one.” (http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/story/2011/08/21/sp-bundesliga.html)
Concede a goal? Are you serious? Can you say “jinx,” Ralf?!? And for goodness sakes, wear the blue kits!