Key Battles That Will Shape Schalke's Clash with Bayern Munich
On Saturday evening the Royal Blues of Schalke will take on Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich in the third perceived top-four clash in just matchday two of this German season.
Despite bolstering a squad full of tremendous talent, Jens Keller's side haven't started the new domestic campaign in the best of manners, losing 2-1 to Hannover 96 on the opening weekend.
Bayern, on the other hand, have already overcome a significant hurdle in their quest for further silverware, with an opening-day win over this season's dark horses for Champions League qualification, Wolfsburg.
Schalke's record against the Bavarian side is quite simply terrible. Last season they lost to Pep Guardiola's side over both games to an aggregate score of 9-1 and haven't overcome Bayern in a league match since March, 2011.
Will we finally see Julian Draxler and Co. finally dispatch of such a poor record, or will this be another walk in the park for the title favourites? Here's how we think Saturday's clash is likely to shape up.
Robert Lewandowski vs Schalke
Despite only just managing to squeeze by Wolfsburg by a solitary goal last Friday, this Bavarian side still undoubtedly base most of their skill on their ability to score a vast number of goals.
At the heart of this attack is new signing Robert Lewandowski, a striker that most Schalke fans will know well enough from his days at rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Interestingly enough, considering the Polish striker's prolific record in the Bundesliga, he has managed to score an impressive four goals against Schalke in just eight league games, according to Transfermarkt. A tally that may grow ever stronger now that he's at Bayern.
For Keller, the most important player to close down on Saturday will undoubtedly be this powerful striker who just loves scoring goals against the Royal Blues. Keep him quiet and you've nullified Bayern's greatest attacking asset.
Bayern's Weakness to Wide Play
Bayern may hold a certain level of dominance over German football at the moment, yet fans are worried that Guardiola has began tinkering with a well-oiled system that has done them so well over the past few years.
We are, of course, talking about the Spanish coach's insistence on moving his side to a back three, with a flat pack of four midfielders in front. This is a new style of football that Bayern are far from fluent with and one that looks particularly susceptible to oppositions who tend to play with notable wingers.
In the German Supercup we saw Bayern struggle against a far from full-strength Dortmund side that made full use of Jonas Hofmann and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on either wings, as well as a Woflsburg side that took full use of its wide players Kevin de Bruyne and Vieirinha.
In Eric Choupo-Moting, Sidney Sam and even young Draxler, Schalke do have a whole host of wingers with the ability to make full use of that extra space on the wings and punish Bayern as they still struggle to come to terms with this new formation.
Huntelaar Against an Unconvincing Bayern Defence
To follow on from the discussion about Bayern's reluctance to defend their own wings, Schalke will also need to look toward using such an advantage to bring star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar into the game and get him scoring goals.
Like Lewandowski at one end of the field, Huntelaar will be down the other leading his team's attack in the exact same way as he has done in prolific fashion for some time now in Gelsenkirchen.
Fourteen goals in 21 games for the Royal Blues last season and another last week against Hannover to kick of his tally this season would suggest the Dutch international is certainly raring to go.
Keller should also take heart from the fact that Bayern have now conceded four goals in their opening three competitive games of the season. If they can find the right service to a striker like Huntelaar then odds are that he will find the goals against this unconfident Bayern back line.
An Even Midfield Battle
With Bayern likely to play a 3-5-2 formation and Schalke expected to stick with their 4-2-3-1 lineup, we can certainly expect plenty of fireworks in the middle of the park on Saturday evening.
Guardiola's new system is based around flooding the midfield, with what will essentially be a central duo of David Alaba and Gianluca Gaudino, while Mario Gotze sits just in front in an attacking position.
Schake will undoubtedly have the polarizing Kevin-Prince Boateng and Roman Neustadter sitting in a defensive formation behind of their own playmaker, Julian Draxler.
Six players will be facing off in this tight area of the pitch, dictating which way the game will go as they fight for dominance and possession of the match. The Royal Blues will surely look to take advantage of Gaudino's inexperience at such a level, while Bayern fans will again be confident that their side can overcome whatever their rivals throw at them.
This midfield battle may well be where this game is won or lost for either side.
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