Bundesliga - Seventh against eleventh. European hopefuls Schalke will be hopeful of bouncing back to form worthy of their aspirations when they entertain an improving Hamburg side at the Veltins-Arena on Wednesday, KO at 19:00 GMT.
Shallow Schalke looking to fight back
Die Königsblauen would have been keen on putting their poor 2014/15 season behind them, but despite their ambitions they have not been able to replicate the actions of their Ruhr rivals, Borussia Dortmund.
After being dumped out by Ukrainian Giants Shakhtar Donetsk, on home soil and in embarrassing fashion, die Knappen travelled to the Commerzbank-Arena where they played out to an incredibly dull, goalless draw against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Schalke may be seventh, but they do, however, sit just one point off of fourth-placed Gladbach, albeit facing competition from a similarly lacklustre Bayer Leverkusen and an in-form Mainz side. It goes without saying they need to pick up form fast with a very tricky string of fixtures looming, including the top two and European contenders.
Hamburg forging path up the table
This time last season and the season before, Hamburg's feat of never being relegated from the Bundesliga was under serious threat. In fact, Schalke had a real chance to relegate Hamburg at the end of last season. Die Redhosen went from European hopefuls to a side in need of much confidence - narrowly staving off the drop thanks to winning the playoff two years in a row. Now though, the Dinosaurs are looking good in beating the extinction, sitting a lofty seven points above the bottom three.
The famous Red Shorts travel to Gelsenkirchen on the back of a dogfight draw at home to Ingolstadt and a glamourless draw in Frankfurt, just like Schalke. They did, however, achieve a fine win over Gladbach at the Volksparkstadion, showing there is life in the old Dino yet and, as a result, sit eleventh.
The reverse fixture saw Leroy Sané score the only goal as Schalke ran out 1-0 winners at the Volksparkstadion in late September. On top of this, Hamburg have not won at the Veltins-Arena in any of the last four visits.
Each manager has their say
André Breitenreiter reflected on the team's past few weeks, "After recent results [Shakhtar, Stuttgart, Mainz], the team was a little insecure, and when you’re insecure you make mistakes." He continued, "These are human beings we’re talking about after all, not robots. So it was important to first of all regain stability, particularly in defence - we did that on Sunday."
Speaking ahead of tomorrow, the Schalke manager explained his side can do better, "Going forward we’re obviously a lot better than what we showed on Sunday. We want to show what we’re capable of up front against HSV and put away the chances we create."
The home side will have to soldier on without Benedikt Höwedes, Köln-bound Marco Höger, Matija Nastasić and, more recently, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Leon Goretzka, who have both suffered recent injuries. It has also been revealed that Atsuto Uchida will likely miss the rest of the season due to a persistent knee injury. On the bright side; Maxi Meyer, Younes Belhanda and Liverpool-bound Joel Matip are sure to be fit.
Bruno Labbadia spoke earnestly of the upcoming match: "It will be an interesting game. Schalke are a quality side with very different ambitions than us which could mean pressure for them" and is confident his side can get a result, "We have done well by doing so this season. We should have taken at least a point from the first game against them earlier in the season."
He added, "We will approach Wednesday’s game in much the same way, because we know exactly what we have to do in order to find our rhythm. We have performed well away from home at times this season and I am sure we will perform well at Schalke."
The HSV manager revealed Albin Ekdal and Michael Gregoritsch will both miss the crunch tie. Gotoku Sakai and Emir Spahić should be fit, but Aaron Hunt is a concern.