Hoffenheim 2-1 Schalke 04: Former-Schalke striker Szalai returns to haunt his former club
Image credit: kicker

First half goals from Tarik Elyounoussi and Adam Szalai gave Hoffenheim at 2-0 lead at the break. A red card for Joel Matip made a comeback an almost impossible task, but Klass-Jan Huntelaar pulled a goal back with a fine solo goal. It was all in vain, however, as Hoffenheim climbed up to second.

Hoffenheim, despite only winning twice this term, currently sit in fifth place. Unbeaten after six games, Markus Gisdol's men have turned things around defensively and (not including the Freiburg game) are a much better side for it. However Ermin Bičakčić, who has been crucial for the Sinsheim side since moving from Eintracht Braunschweig, would miss the game through infection. Kim Jin-Su (Asian Games), Kevin Akpoguma (Under 23 game), Jeremy Toljan, Koen Casteels and Sejad Salihović (All training injuries) also were unavailable for the clash. That meant that Gisdol named a largerly unchanged line-up from their 0-0 draw against Mainz. Adam Szalai, formerly of Schalke, earned a starting berth at the expense of Anthony Modeste in the change to the side.

Schalke come into the game after a desperately disappointing 1-1 draw at home to NK Maribor. A typical 'Schalke' result in many ways. After going unbeaten against Chelsea, Bayern Munich and beating Borussia Dortmund, the draw with Maribor brought them back to earth. Fabian Giefer (Abductor trouble), Benedikt Höwedes (Tendinitis), Jan Kirchhoff (Tendon injury), Sead Kolasinac (ACL tear), Jefferson Farfán (Cartlidge problems), Leon Goretzka, Felipe Santana and Sidney Sam (Muscle problems) didn't play a part in Sinsheim, as the Gelsenkirchen side slowly reduce their injury woes. After the dull draw in mid-week, Jens Keller made three changes to the starting eleven: Atsuto Uchida, Marco Höger, Max Meyer all came into the team, with Kaan Ayhan, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Tranquillo Barnetta dropping out.

The visitors almost took the lead within a minute of the get-go. Uchida played a marvelous pass towards Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting to pierce the defensive line. The Cameroonian, in great form, rounded Oliver Baumann, but couldn't keep the ball from getting out of his reach and going for a goal kick. Hoffenheim responded with a shot of their own, Kevin Volland cut in from the right and fired comfortably into the chest of Ralf Fährmann.

In truth, both sides had their defensive problems in the opening ten minutes, as Adam Szalai forced a save from Fährmann, Schalke's stalwart between the sticks pulled off a great save with his feet. However, it was all in vain moments later. A marvelous move from Hoffenheim's attacking trio was finished off by Tarik Elyounoussi. Volland drove at a shaky Schalke defence, before feeding Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian was left in acres of space and squared for the Norwegian winger to tap home.

Uchida and Choupo-Moting, who had set up the game's first chance, combined again to cause the headaches in the Hoffenheim defence. Similar to the first chance, it was wasted by the Cameroon forward. Firmino was troubling the Schalke defence in a similar fashion, running at Roman Neustädter before curling the ball toward goal and forcing Fährmann into a simple save. There was a momentary worry for the hosts, as Baumann felt his groin and required treatment. Thankfully for Gisdol, the physios signalled that all was okay and their summer signing could continue.

Szalai was then denied by last week's hero from Schalke, Joel Matip, as he put in a heroic block to stop his side falling further behind. The game continued to rain chances and Roberto Firmino blazed a great opportunity wide, after a lucky bounce fell his way in the box. However, that miss was made irrelevant minutes later. Marco Höger was robbed of the ball, before Firmino, Volland and Szalai exchanged passes. That say the Hungarian striker break through on Fährmann and finish emphatically into the back of the net. Normally players don't celebrate against their former employers, but this was not the case here as Szalai was joyous with the goal.

The Schalke that had drawn with Bayern and Chelsea were seemingly left in Gelsenkirchen. Firmino fed Szalai again, but Fährmann came to the rescue and spared their blushes yet again. Julian Draxler wasted a glorious chance to make it 2-1, as the ball managed to fall to him on the edge of the box, he failed to hit the target with an easy chance.

Obviously unhappy with the first half performance, Jens Keller made two changes at the break. Marvin Friedrich and Tranquillo Barnetta came on for Roman Neustädter and Marco Höger. Hoffenheim seemed much more keen to sit back and absorb pressure from Schalke, who came out a refreshed side. However, the hosts were a constant threat on the counter-attack through out.

The beginning of the second half seemed to be a false down from a Schalke fans point of view, as an creativity was stifled and the hosts began to dominate. Andreas Beck, who had been unusually quiet, marauded forward and very nearly produced a third goal with his cross-shot. Adam Szalai was taken off after an hour of tireless running, who had fully deserved his goal against his ex-club. He was replaced by Sven Schipplock, who immediately set about in a similar vain.

Youngster Friedrich sent a header over the bar, before a series of bookings and fouls stemmed the game's flow. Dennis Aogo and Joel Matip seen yellow within a minute of each other, with Christian Fuchs also having his name taken by Florian Meyer minutes later. Sven Schipplock was millimetres from scoring a marvelous goal, only for it to be deflected wide of the most. The sub turned his man before curling a 25 yard effort towards goal, only for a slight nick to take it wide.

Things went from bad to worse when Matip got booked again, just five minutes after his first and was off for an early bath. The resulting costless-kick almost provided a deserved third for Hoffenheim, when Elyounoussi put a costless header horrendously wide of the goal. While it looked like the game would draw out into a comfortable win, Klass-Jan Huntelaar had other ideas.

The Dutch forward picked up the ball and ran, centrally, at the hosts' defence. He then unleashed a powerful left-footed drive, that beat Baumann to his left, that gave Schalke a glimmer of hope. Fährmann was called into action to deny Hoffenheim yet again, but his and Huntelaar's hard work went without reward as the home side recorded a massive three points.

The win sent Hoffenheim into second place in the Bundesliga, a point ahead of Gladbach who play on Sunday. Four points behind Bayern and still unbeaten is a world away from last season's defensive woes. An impressive performance from young Niklas Süle and Tobias Strobl did a fine job of halting any Schalke attacks. For the Royal Blues, it's another disappointing performance and another defeat. Ill-discipline is now a feature of Keller's side, who pick up yellow cards at a rate of knots nowadays.