Stuttgart 3-1 Schalke

VEDAD Ibišević grabbed a hat-trick as Stuttgart put on a counter-attacking masterclass to beat Schalke and move level on points with Huub Stevens’ side in the table. The Bosnian’s eighth, ninth and tenth goals of the season mean Bruno Labbadia’s side have now made it three wins out of three in the league, and could even end the first half of the campaign in a Champions League qualification spot. Stuttgart deserved their win this afternoon, after putting in a solid shift defensively, being tactically disciplined and versatile in midfield, and lethal on the break. It helps, of course, when you have someone of Ibišević’s calibre leading the line – the 28-year-old has scored 50 per cent of his team’s league goals this season, and looks on course to be one of the contenders for the golden boot for the fifth consecutive year.

As for Schalke, perhaps they just didn’t fancy the cold? Today’s clash was one fought in a sub-zero temperature; but one that also often had the relaxed feel of a friendly. However, both sides did end proceedings at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with ten men, following straight red cards for Stuttgart right-back Gōtoku Sakai and Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The visiting side’s latest failure to win means despite making their best-ever start to a season, Schalke – still fourth in the league, but only by virtue of goal difference – have picked up just two wins from their last ten games. Although 59-year-old Stevens’ side bossed possession for large spells and looked the much-more technically accomplished of the two teams this afternoon, they didn’t trouble Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich at all, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar starved of service. Yes, the visitors were level for a while, after Ciprian Marica scored against his former club, but with Stevens already under pressure, this was not a performance that will have convinced the pen-pushers that the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Ulreich; Sakai, Maza Rodríguez, Georg Niedermeier, Arthur Boka; Zdravko Kuzmanović; Martin Harnik, Christian Gentner, Raphael Holzhauser, Ibrahima Traoré; Ibišević

Schalke (4-1-2-1-2, or 4-4-2 diamond; from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Roman Neustädter; Jones, Julian Draxler; Lewis Holtby; Marica, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Continue reading

Schalke 2-1 Werder Bremen

Schalke fought back after a lacklustre first half performance to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and keep pace with 1. Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich. An Aaron Hunt-inspired Bremen deserved the 1-0 lead they took into the break after executing an effective gameplan and capitalising on some lethargic play by the home side (with Hunt himself putting the ball in the net). But after being allowed to equalize a little too easily shortly after the hour mark (Roman Neustädter’s headed goal was pretty defendable, and came at a time when Bremen were still exerting a degree of control), Schalke took charge, with 18-year-old substitute Julian Draxler showing great composure – amid erratic defending by the visitors – to score the winner with just under 20 minutes to play.

Thomas Schaaf will feel his side didn’t get what they deserved after one of their best performances on the road this season, yet Bremen only have themselves to blame. Huub Stevens, meanwhile, will be relieved his side came away with all three points from this game, as during the first 45 minutes, Schalke looked tired after their heroic efforts against English Premier League side Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday. Although Schalke remain seven points behind Bayern Munich, who also won this afternoon, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at the Allianz Arena, Stevens’ side remain four points clear of fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund (who won 3-1 at Augsburg), and three ahead of third-placed Frankfurt, with a much better goal difference. So, in a nutshell, a forgettable match but an important result – one that could be the difference between tears of joy and jubilation come the conclusion of matchday 34 for both these sides.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Schalke (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Lars Unnerstall; Benedikt Höwedes, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Jermaine Jones, Neustädter; Jefferson Farfán, Lewis Holtby, Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Werder Bremen (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Sebastian Mielitz; Theodor Gebre Selassie, Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukas Schmitz; Zlatko Junuzović; Marko Arnautović, Hunt, Kevin De Bruyne, Eljero Elia; Nils Petersen Continue reading

Schalke-Werder Bremen preview

Schalke will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to lowly Hoffenheim last weekend as poor-on-the-road Werder Bremen visit the Veltins-Arena. Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at the Rhein-Neckar Arena was actually Schalke’s first defeat in all competitions on the road this season, with Hoffe denying second-placed Schalke the chance to stay within four points of league leaders Bayern Munich (who beat Hamburg 3-0 to make the gap seven points). Bayern Munich are the only other side to have beaten Schalke this season, with Schalke otherwise proving to be imperious at home so far this campaign (a run they maintained by fighting back to draw 2-2 with Arsenal in the Champions League during the week).

On paper, Bremen should pose no problems on Saturday afternoon, as Thomas Schaaf’s side have lost to Münster (cup), Borussia Dortmund, Hannover, and Augsburg away from home this season, and were also held at struggling minnows Fürth a fortnight back. However, at home, the story is a little different, with Sunday’s 2-1 home win over Mainz helping Bremen move up to seventh place in the 1. Bundesliga table (six points behind their hosts this weekend). Continue reading

Schalke 4-0 Nuremberg

The first half formations.

Well-organised and clinical Schalke caught an error-strewn and lethargic Nuremberg side cold on four occasions to take all three points and move up to third in the table. The visitors, admittedly injury-hit in the striking department, looked shorn of confidence and unsure as to what was required of them tactically for the majority of the match. These problems, coupled with several out-of-form defenders, meant that Huub Stevens’ counter-attacking style worked perfectly: His side’s performance really was a masterclass in how to capitalise on your opponent’s weaknesses. Selection wise, the Dutchman got it spot on too – picking the creative but often work-shy Alexander Baumjohann, for instance, was a bold move. But, it paid off, as the right-sided midfielder played a blinder and the home side took all three points; leaving Nuremberg – without a win in eight – looking over their collective shoulder.

Match preview here.

Both sides made bright starts to the match, with no nerves apparent, and several little give-and-go moves attempted. However, the two best chances in the opening stages were as a result of more direct tactics – first Mike Frantz chasing a long punt upfield but seeing his shot on the spin blocked, before Kyriakos Papadopoulos headed over at the other end after a hanging cross from the right. With both his first-choice strikers missing and Christian Eigler deployed on the right wing, several of Dieter Hecking’s attacking-midfielders seemed to be taking it in turns to lead the line in a 4-4-2 early on. With the hosts seeing more of the ball in the match’s first ten minutes, Nuremberg switched between lightening-quick carry-the-ball counter-attacks upfield, and some side-to-side-and-going-nowhere-but-forcing-the-opposition-back melina. Continue reading

Mainz-Schalke preview

Round three of the new Bundesliga season pits together two of the sides who succeeded last year in qualifying for the 2011/12 Europa League. However, whereas Schalke began their continental campaign on Thursday, albeit by losing 2-0 away to HJK Helsinki in a first leg result described as a “disaster” by sporting director Horst Heldt, Mainz were eliminated at the first hurdle, suffering a penalty shootout exit after failing to break down Romanian minnows Gaz Metan two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s side have made the better start to the new Bundesliga campaign, taking six points from a possible six, and making fans dream of emulating their seven-wins-from-seven-games start to 2010/11. Following up their 2-0 and 2-1 victories over Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg respectively with three points against Schalke will put them just under 50 percent of the way to achieving that goal, and the away side can expect a frenzied atmosphere at Mainz’s new Coface Arena as fans dream of eclipsing last season’s fifth-place finish. Continue reading