A potential dream first season under coach David Wagner is turning into a nightmare for Schalke who will attempt to end a 10-game winless run in the Bundesliga against Werder Bremen today.
Schalke urgently need a victory to boost their European hopes while Bremen, second bottom, are fighting for their very survival.
Continental qualification and the relegation battle now take centre stage with six rounds remaining in the league after Bayern Munich closed in on an eighth successive title with a win at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.
Schalke are one of several clubs with plenty left to play for in the delayed season which is being completed behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s really frustrating to have lost again,” Schalke’s Weston McKennie said following the 2-1 defeat at Fortuna Dusseldorf on Wednesday. “We can’t let our heads drop now.
“On Saturday we go again against Bremen. We need to stick together and bring a positive feeling to the pitch.”
Wagner was appointed last summer in a bid to change Schalke’s fortunes and initially seemed to be on the right track. After 18 games Schalke were fifth and level on points with local rivals Dortmund and just three points off Bayern, then in second.
But a miserable haul of just four points from the next 30 has left them ninth and without Champions League chances. The new goal is making up the five-point deficit to Wolfsburg in the final automatic Europa League spot.
Injuries have not helped, with Wagner claiming on Wednesday the team have to “play a different game to what we originally intended and had done so well with early on in the season.”
Bremen, with their future at stake, will not make life easy. They are five points off the relegation play-off place, occupied by Dusseldorf, though do hold a game in hand.
And they have picked up four points from the last two matches with their best performances in months.
“We need to continue as we started against Freiburg and as we ended [in a 0-0 draw against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday],” defender Christian Gross told the club website.
“Then I think we’ve got a great chance of winning against Schalke.”
Bottom club Paderborn look doomed as they host Dortmund tomorrow while Werder will hope Bayern don’t ease off at home to Dusseldorf in today’s late game.
Bayern are seven points clear after all the other title challengers faltered in midweek.
One of those, Bayer Leverkusen, were scheduled to open the weekend by visiting Freiburg yesterday. Leverkusen are out of the Champions League spots on goal difference and are looking to bounce back from a 4-1 home collapse to Wolfsburg.
Coach Peter Bosz labelled that performance “awful... really in all areas,” and a big improvement will be needed against a Freiburg side, eighth, who are still chasing Europe.
Hoffenheim, one place above them, visit a Mainz outfit who are one place above the relegation play-off having been held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Union Berlin on Wednesday.
The capital club have not hit the ground running since the restart and another loss, away to Gladbach tomorrow, would keep them in the relegation battle.
Eintracht Frankfurt, 14th, ended a five game losing streak with a midweek draw but face another hard trip to Wolfsburg today.
Augsburg travel to Hertha Berlin, who have picked up an impressive seven points from nine under new coach Bruno Labbadia while the weekend concludes Monday with Cologne hosting RB Leipzig.
Leipzig were held 2-2 by Hertha midweek in an apparent fatal blow to their title chances and must recover to secure a Champions League return. They are two points behind second-placed Dortmund and two ahead of the pursuing Leverkusen and Gladbach.
Wolfsburg vs Eintracht Frankfurt
Hertha Berlin vs Augsburg
Mainz vs Hoffenheim
Schalke vs Werder Bremen
Bayern Munich vs Dusseldorf
Bor. Moenchengladbach vs Union Berlin
Paderborn vs Borussia Dortmund
Cologne vs Leipzig
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