The “Hunter” saves Schalke from Maribor shock

After their hugely creditable draw against group favourites Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their opening Champions’ League fixture, Schalke 04’s momentum would take a bit of a bump at the Veltins Arena against NK Maribor, the team seen by many as the group outsiders.

The Slovenian champions had also come into the game with a point from their opening encounter with Sporting Lisbon, but were not expected to trouble Jens Keller’s side who despite missing a number of key players were fresh from their 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby at the weekend.

Die Knappen would see the welcome return of suspended playmaker Julian Draxler, but would be without the services of influential skipper Benedikt Höwedes and the injured Sidney Sam who would be watching from the stands. Meanwhile Swiss star Tranquillo Barnetta would start ahead of teenage prodigy Max Meyer in what was a talented if slightly depleted midfield.

The home side would start the stronger, forcing the pace as their opponents initially struggled to adapt. A Cristiano Ronaldoesque free-kick effort from Dennis Aogo would float over the crossbar, a slightly scuffed Klaas-Jan Huntelaar shot would be collected by the appropriately-named Jasmin Handanovič, and a teasing cross from Kevin-Prince Boateng would be just a little too high for the Dutchman.

Maribor’s Dare Vršič would almost catch Schalke ‘keeper Ralf Fährmann off his line with an audacious – or should one saying daring – shot from just inside his own half, but at the other end the home side would continue to create opportunities. Aleksander Rajčevič would deny Huntelaar with a timely challenge just as he was about to pull the trigger, and with what was probably the best chance of the first half an unmarked Boateng would miss a clear header at the far post from Christian Fuchs’ floated left-wing cross.

Eight minutes before the end of the first half Maribor would suddenly surge forward, and catch the blue-shirted defence completely cold. With everyone looking for an offside flag, Mitja Viler would dart down the left and into the void beyond the blue line before squaring the ball for Demjan Bohar. Taking full advantage of the time and space, the finish would be a simple one.

Schalke would immediately look to respond with an almost immediate attack of their own, but having grabbed the initiative Ante Šimundža’s side could have easily been two up before the break.

The second half would see much of the same, but just as it looked as though it was going to be one of those evenings for the home side they would be gifted a way back into the contest. Maribor had been disciplined and tight at the back all evening, but an inexplicable angled pass across the face of his own penalty area from Viler was seized upon by Huntelaar at the edge of the box. Sharp as ever, the Dutch striker was on the ball in a flash before sending in a low shot that squeezed inside Handanovič’s right post, taking the slightest of touches off the ‘keeper’s outstretched right hand.

Roared on by the home crowd Die Königsblauen would press for the winner, but would suffer from combination of poor finishing and failure to keep things simple. Huntelaar found fire well wide when he would have more time to consider his options, and the energetic but slightly wasteful Draxler would take on far too many speculative efforts that would either fly wide of the target or straight into a yellow-shirted defender.

The 1-1 result was arguably a fair one, but nobody would have begrudged the home side had they snatched all three points. As things stand, Keller’s side sit alongside the Slovenian side on two points from their two games – two behind leaders Chelsea and one ahead of Sporting Lisbon. With Chelsea expected to top the group and Maribor not expected to extend their unbeaten run in their upcoming games against the London club, the double header between Schalke and Sporting may well be crucial to Die Knappen’s hopes of making the knockout stages.

UEFA Champions’ League Group Phase Week 2
Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen, 30.09.2014

FC Schalke 04 1:1 (0:1) NK Maribor
Huntelaar 56. / Bohar 37.

Schalke: Fährmann – Ayhan (46. Uchida), Neustädter, Matip, Fuchs – Aogo, K.-P. Boateng (79. Meyer) – Choupo-Moting (66. Obasi), Barnetta, Draxler – Huntelaar (c)

Maribor: Handanovič – Mejač, Rajčevič, Šuler, Viler – Filipović, Mertelj (80. Ndiaye) – Vršič (67. Mendy), Bohar (83. Sallalich) – Tavares, Ibraimi

Yellow Cards: Boateng / Filipović, Viler, Mertelj, Ibraimi

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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