Schalke built a gap between themselves and those chasing fourth place thanks mostly to Klass Jan Huntelaar’s hat-trick, which sunk HSV at the VELTINS-Arena.
Jens Keller made two changes to the side that lost to Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend, welcoming Huntelaar and Jermaine Jones back to the starting lineup. Julian Draxler, Raffael and Michel Bastos played behind the Dutch striker, while Roman Neustädter and Jones made up the midfield in Keller’s 4-2-3-1. Marco Höger was unavailable due to his suspension, while Ciprian Marica was unable to recover from an injury sustained last week.
Thorsten Fink also made two changes to the side that defeated Fortuna Düsseldorf at the Imtech Arena last weekend. The win put them two points behind Schalke ahead of this match and a win would see Fink’s men climb to fourth place. Jacopo Sala replaced the suspended Dennis Diekmeier at right-back whilst Tolgay Arslan stepped in for Milan Badelj in midfield. Heung-Min Son led the line in Fink’s 4-2-3-1, whilst Per Skjelbred, Rafael van der Vaart and Petr Jiráček played behind him. Dennis Aogo shielded the back four alongside Arslan.
The first half started in fine fashion with two goals in the opening 10 minutes. Marcell Jansen gave Hamburg the lead in the fifth minute when Heiko Westermann nodded the ball from a corner kick to Jansen, who out-jumped Neustädter and headed the ball past Timo Hildebrand. It was a great start from Hamburg but, surprisingly, everything went downhill after they took the lead.
Fink’s men were very sloppy on the day, conceding possession easily, especially in their final third. Schalke’s pressing in the midfield was excellent and Hamburg struggled to play through it. Keller’s men responded to the goal immediately, as Neustädter dispossessed Skjelbred and found Huntelaar, who played in Bastos and the Brazilian leveled the score line by calmly slotting the ball past René Adler. The Brazilian winger had what was arguably his best game since joining Schalke on loan from Olympique Lyonnais
Bastos had quite the first half down the right side running at defenders. With Jansen pushing forward at every opportunity to join Hamburg’s attack, Bastos had space to exploit when Schalke broke on the counter. Despite being isolated for most of the first half, Draxler gave the Schalke fans something to cheer about in the 21st minute. Huntelaar cleverly flicked the ball over his head, and the young Schalke starlet avoided a challenge and sent the ball across goal for Huntelaar to tap in.
Schalke began to take control of the match but were struggling to put the game out of sight. Raffael had completed the most passes in the final third in the first half, linking play across the pitch, but the Brazilian was not able to put in a quality final ball. The home side nearly doubled their lead in the final minutes of the half, but Adler made a terrific save to keep out Jones’ header from a corner kick.
HSV’s main threat in the first half came from the left hand side, with Jansen getting forward, and from set pieces. Westermann nearly found an equalizer when he redirected a free-kick off the post. Van der Vaart, who scored both goals in die Rothosen’s victory last weekend, struggled to have any influence on the match. The Dutch midfielder dropped deep into the midfield since his team’s midfield was unable to supply him service in between the lines. Van der Vaart completed the most passes in the attacking third for Hamburg in the first half, but they were mostly from deeper positions.
Schalke increased their lead in the 58th minute, as Raffael avoided a tackle and his cross found Huntelaar in the box, with the Dutch striker nodding home his second of the afternoon. Eight minutes later, Huntelaar completed his hat trick, as Hamburg failed to clear their lines; Draxler played in a devastating ball, which Adler punched away, but Huntelaar’s poaching instincts allowed him to nod the ball in from six yards out into the empty net.
Jens Keller’s men sat in two banks of four for most of the second half and relied on quick transitions when they won the ball. With HSV attempting to push men forward, they were vulnerable on the counter, and it was only Rene Adler’s excellent saves which prevented the home side to increase their advantage.
Aogo, Arslan and van der Vaart spent most of the match dropping deep to pick up the ball. However, despite having most of the possession, they failed to penetrate the Schalke defence. Aogo and Arslan both had a passing percentage of over 90%; most passes were completed were in their own third, while both men combined for six final third passes. Schalke’s high line, combined with their effective pressing, prevented Fink’s men from causing problems at Schalke’s end. Son lacked service and they rarely caused problems in wide areas because Schalke’s wingers did a good job tracking back.
Fink introduced Artjoms Rudņevs for Skjelbred and Son played behind him, but the Latvian striker had no effect on the match. Tomas Rincón replaced the anonymous Van der Vaart while Jens Keller made straight swaps with his three substitutions, Christian Fuchs for Bastos, Christoph Moritz for Jones and Teemu Pukki for Huntelaar. Despite Schalke not seeing much of the ball, they were threatening on the break and their pressing was effective as well as being clinical in front of goal.
HSV now sit five points behind Schalke as they continue to push for European football next year. They were poor on the afternoon, both in attack and in defence, and will need to improve if they intend on playing in Europe next year. Picking up maximum points in their final three matches will be the goal for Fink’s men, but they need to create more chances and get their striker involved in their game. It was a pretty poor performance by them in a huge match, as the away side failed to show up.
Huntelaar was superb in his return from injury, scoring a hat trick and assisting Bastos’ goal which led to Schalke’s emphatic victory. The Dutch striker, who hasn’t played a game since picking up an injury against Borussia Dortmund in early March, was fantastic. His movement off the ball, vision, and clinical finishing was the difference between the two sides on the day.
If you’re missing a player like him for weeks, it’s pretty bitter. We are very glad to have him back.
We’ve taken a small step. We’re able to settle a little but there are still three huge games remaining. – Jens Keller
With Eintracht Frankfurt’s 0-0 draw at Mainz and Freiburg and Borussia Monchengladbach both losing against Bayern München (1-0) and Wolfsburg (3-1) respectively, Keller’s men now have a three-point lead for the final Champions League spot. With three games to play and players returning from injury, Schalke are sure to be favourites to claim fourth place.
Die Königsblauen are one step closer to clinching Champions League football as Huntelaar had a dream return, netting three times against a poor HSV side who struggled throughout the entire match.
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