Schalke against Leverkusen is almost always one of the most hotly contested games in the league and match day 14 was no different. Regardless of league positions, the fixture is always tightly contested with neither team having scored more than two goals in it since 2006, and there was an added weight on matchday 14 given both sides began the day one place apart on the table, sharing the same amount of points and knowing that a win would take either to the same amount of points as fourth place.
Both sides share the same objective of reaching a coveted champions league spot, and a win against the other could halt the progress of a direct competitor in the process. It is one of those games where a draw is not really any good to either team and where both sets of fans would probably rather there was an option of extra time and penalties should the score be level after ninety minutes.
So of course, as sod’s law would have it that the game would end in a draw, leaving fans in both the Ruhr and Rhein regions scratching their heads and wondering where exactly it leaves them.
The game itself was a close affair as we have come to expect. It seems that Breitenreiter is still not quite sure what his strongest lineup is, or what formation Schalke should line up in, but he opted for a more familiar 4-2-3-1 this game albeit with inverted wingers, while out of possession it was a sort of 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 hybrid, with said wingers dropping deep.
Schalke had the better of the opening exchanges, seeing more of the ball and moving it quickly between the lines as the fullbacks bombed on, while Meyer was able to find pockets of space in between the lines. He was nearly able to help put the blues in front early on when he jinked his way through a couple of challenges in the Leverkusen box only to have his pass from the byline scrambled away. Either side of that chance, Höwedes and Choupo-Moting – who was fresh off a winning goal in the Europe League midweek, had headed efforts saved by Leno.
Failing to capitalise on those opportunities however saw the momentum of the game swing in Leverkusen’s favour, although they too were unable to make the most of their chances with the excellent Bellarabi, Leverkusen’s best player on the day, hitting the bar and going close inside the box before the interval.
It was clear that Schalke had to find a way to get Huntelaar into the game as he had had no influence on earlier proceedings, while Sané had seen his threat nullified by Boenisch, who Schmidt opted for ahead of Wendell as he looked to shore up the back four.
At half time, Breitenreiter made sure that happened as Schalke started the second half as they had the first, only this time making their dominance count. Huntelaar played in Goretzka, who in turn threaded the ball through perfectly to Choupo-Moting whose touch took him past Donati before beating Leno to make it two in two games. Jonathan Tah had a solid game for the most part, but on that occasion he afforded Goretzka too much space, while the latter was lucky to stay on the pitch later on in the game following an uncharacteristic two footed challenge, even if it did win the ball.
Although the half was littered with Leverkusen chances, with the in-form Hernandez a persistent pest, it was only after Breitenreiter opted to try and see out the game by swapping the midfield pairing of Goretzka and Højbjerg for Kolašinac and Neustädter that Leverkusen found their equaliser. Football can be a cruel game at the best of times, but Riether must have wondering what he had done to deserve the double whammy of a ball to the face and an own goal to boot when Fährmann deflected Hernandez’s cross onto the defender who had been almost exemplary all game.
On the balance of play a draw was probably a fair result, but the manner of the equaliser and the timing of it being in the 85th minute made it hard to swallow. The performance was certainly positive but it is still very hard to judge this Schalke side, particularly when they can take games by the scruff of the neck for sustained periods but fail to make it show on the score line.
Breitenreiter might not be sure of his best starting eleven, but with the exception of the suspended Geis being replaced by Højbjerg, that was probably it. Max Meyer in particular excelled, and after being somewhat out of favour during the beginning of the season he now seems to be back to his best, and now he, along with the rest of the Schalke players, will have to turn performances into points before the winter break. Gladbach, Dortmund, Bayern and Leverkusen in the space of five matchdays is about as difficult as it gets in the Bundesliga, but one point from those is hardly impressive. Hannover, Augsburg and Hoffenheim in December should mark an easier task, but of course the key word there is ‘should’.
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