First-half goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Maximilian Meyer helped Schalke 04 to their first win over 1. FC Köln in four attempts before Franco Di Santo headed in a late third as the Royal Blues climb to fourth in the Bundesliga.
Captain for the day, Huntelaar opened the scoring from the spot after Pierre Højbjerg was brought down by Dominic Maroh. Despite Timo Horn’s attempts to put the Dutch international off, the 32-year-old slotted the ball low to Horn’s left.
It looked as though it would be a long afternoon for Köln as Meyer doubled Schalke’s lead after 24 minutes, despite the heroics of Ralf Fährmann at the other end to deny Leonardo Bittencourt and Anthony Modeste. Meyer calmly took the ball under his control before finding a yard inside the Köln area to net his fifth Bundesliga goal of the season.
In a game that involved plenty of goalmouth action, Köln got a goal back through Bittencourt who scored his first goal in Köln colours, heading the ball in at the far post.
Despite Köln’s attempts to find an equaliser, it wasn’t meant to be for the Billy Goats who have just one win to their name in the Rückrunde, which came in a 3-1 home victory against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Di Santo headed in a late goal for Schalke late on just minutes after coming off the bench, putting any hope of a Köln comeback beyond doubt.
How did they line up?
Peter Stöger welcomed back Jonas Hector to the starting XI after the Germany international missed the draw in Ingolstadt through injury. Also returning was Filip Mladenović, who made a cameo appearance last Sunday. Following Schalke’s 3-2 victory over Hamburger SV last weekend, André Breitenreiter named the same XI.
Quick start from Schalke 04
The travelling support were awarded with a goal in the opening minute when Maroh manhandled Højbjerg inside the area. Huntelaar placed the ball on the spot before finding the net to score his 76th Bundesliga goal.
Modeste had the chance to equalise for Köln after eight minutes when Marcel Risse’s floated cross was met by the head of Köln’s top scorer, who failed to find the target, and ought to have done better. Horn was again called into action just moments later. The 22-year-old was forced to dive low to his left to deny Højbjerg’s first goal in Schalke colours, who met the ball on the volley.
The opening 15 minutes didn’t disappoint for the neutral, but offered heart-stopping moments for fans of either side. Köln were presented with a 2v2 opportunity, which led to Modeste finding Bittencourt who took the ball just wide before firing the ball across the six-yard area. Modeste failed to connect with the ball, but Júnior Caiçara failed to clear Schalke’s lines, which resulted in Risse’s effort sailing just wide.
Two chances in quick succession went begging for Köln midway through the first half. Modeste created an opportunity for himself which forced a save from Fährmann before a lapse in concentration at the back almost resulted in Bittencourt finding the net, only to be denied yet again.
Despite Köln’s chances, it was Schalke who doubled their lead as opposed to the hosts finding an equaliser. Meyer found himself free in the penalty area, before fancy footwork allowed the German U21 international to make gain him a yard of space – before firing the ball low and hard into the corner of Horn’s goal.
Persistence finally paid off for Bittencourt who scored his first Bundesliga goal with a header at the far post to put the Billy Goats back in contention for three points. However Köln were nearly undone seconds after the restart when Younes Belhanda’s effort cannoned back off the crossbar, which was the games 19th attempt on goal in 35 minutes.
Schalke happy to defend the second-half
Some of the sting may have been taken out the game in the second-half, but Schalke were playing with fire at times as Köln went in search for an equaliser. Yannick Gerhardt almost netted his third goal in three games against Schalke but his half-volley sailed wide in the opening stages of the second-half.
A mix-up at the back between Fährmann and soon-to-be Liverpool signing Joel Matip almost led to Modeste finding the net, who was Köln’s biggest threat to Schalke. Risse later forced Fährmann into a fingertip save following a free-kick, whilst the visitors brought on Leroy Sane in a bid to catch the hosts on the counter-attack.
Sane made an almost instant impact, and it’s clear to see why Europe’s top clubs are after the youngster who cut in from the right-flank, but curling his effort just wide of Horn’s post with 25 minutes to go.
Johannes Geis' effort from 25-yards midway through the second-half bounced just wide, whilst Stöger brought on Philipp Hosiner in a bid to find the equaliser. Within seconds, Modeste found himself one-on-one with Fährmann, but the former Hoffenheim forward was unable to open his body quick enough to get his shot away.
Within minutes of making his appearance, Hosiner almost found the back of the net with a first time shot that forced Fährmann into yet another save.
It was Di Santo who made the most of his substitute appearance, scoring just his second Bundesliga goal three minutes after coming on, getting ahead of Maroh at the near post.
Thre result means that Schalke are now in a Champions League spot, whilst the result leaves Köln in 11th.