Schalke 04 started the Rückrunde against Stuttgart seeking vengeance for a 3-0 drubbing Die Schwaben gave Die Knappen in the first game of this season. And vengeance is what they got, winning 3-1 at home Saturday. Many a Schalke 04 fan’s only regret was conceding the one goal.
That win puts Schalke tied on points with league leaders Bayern Munich, denied the lead only on goal difference.
This start to the second half bodes well for the team. Schalke is only about 50-50 over the last five years in the first fives games of the Rückrunde. The 4-1-0 second-half start in 2007 is the one exception. But Schalke’s first half this season also compared well with that 06-07 season, when they finished second in the league.
Yet Schalke isn’t looking backward but instead forward, and goals by the team’s “Young Guns” on Saturday showed that the future in Gelsenkirchen is indeed bright. Midfielder Joel Matip is 20 years old; defender Kyriakos “Papa” Papadopoulos is 19, and midfielder Julian Draxler is only 18. And it was Draxler’s goal that really highlighted what the Royal Blues will need to focus on if they are to solidify their game: teamwork. If you haven’t seen Draxler’s goal, you must. Five passes from teammate to teammate, working toward the goal as one, not as individuals. Well done. Schalke’s management will do well to keep these young players (including Teemu Pukki) happy.
But Saturday’s game was not without its disappointment. A run-in between captain Benedikt Höwedes and Marco Höger sent Höwedes off to the hospital. General Manager Horst Heldt is reporting that Höwedes has a cheek fracture and will have surgery Monday; word is that he will be out for several weeks. This is the second injury this year for a Schalke player from a teammate.
All in all, the win Saturday should boost the team’s confidence and keep them surging forward. And the win comes at a much-needed time as contract negotiations with star Raul continue. The Spanish striker has indicated that he loves Schalke 04 and wants to extend his contract. Fans are hoping this win will seal the deal.
VfB Stuttgart led in possession 56% to 44%, while Schalke edged VfB in shots (14-13), shots on goal (7-6) and CKs (8-6). Shinji Okazaki got VfB’s consolation goal on a tap in in the 87th minute.