Champions League

Schalke focus on Euro task

2014-12-09 13:34
Schalke celebrate (AFP)

Berlin - Schalke are resurgent in the Bundesliga under coach Roberto Di Matteo but in the Champions League on Wednesday they must win and hope for a favour elsewhere to reach the knock-out phase.

Schalke may have won three Bundesliga matches in succession but know nothing less than a victory away to Maribor Wednesday will give them a chance of reaching the Champions League knock-out stage.

Maribor are out of the Champions League but are unbeaten at home in the competition this season and, with third-place and the Europa League spot not beyond them, they are not lacking motivation to win.

Schalke have to balance the threat of being eliminated from Europe altogether with a defeat while pushing for the win which could see them pip Sporting Lisbon to second.

But they also need to hope Sporting lose their match away to Chelsea to open the door.

"I'm not thinking about that," Di Matteo said. "We will look after the game at what the situation is."

Di Matteo has a rich history with Chelsea having won two FA Cups, a League Cup and Cup Winners' Cup there as a player before coaching the team to the Champions League and FA Cup double in 2012.

"My experience from England is that there are no friendly games," he said. "Chelsea will definitely try to win."

Di Matteo made a relatively slow start at Schalke having been appointed in September with performances picking up only slowly.

But a change in system to 3-5-2 has brought explosive victories over Wolfsburg, Mainz and Stuttgart, even if the side did crash to a disastrous 5-0 home loss to Chelsea in the previous Champions League game.

"We invest a lot of time in the new system," defender Jan Kirchhoff said. "The work is beginning to pay off."

Kirchhoff is regularly at the centre of the three-man back line but it is the attack which has grabbed the headlines in the recent run of improved form.

While midfield stars such as Kevin-Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler are out with injury, strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting have kept firing goals.

Modern football has seen a move away from two traditional strikers leading the line up front but the tactic has paid dividends so far.

"We are unpredictable if we have two strikers," Di Matteo said. "That makes us dangerous."

Huntelaar bagged a hat-trick against Mainz two weeks ago to take his scoring record for the club to 101 goals in 158 competitive games. No other Bundesliga striker has found the net as often as the Dutchman in 2014.

And Cameroon international Choupo-Moting, now 25, is finding the consistency that eluded him with previous clubs. He bagged a treble in last Saturday's 4-0 romp at Stuttgart.

"With such a victory in the bag you can be full of confidence for the next game," he said. "Wednesday is very important."

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