Opinion

Sterling effort by Schalke to secure Champions League with Dortmund hoping to join them next week

Schalke have secured a second-place finish in the Bundesliga this season after a 2-1 win at Augsburg on Saturday. Borussia Dortmund will travel to Hoffenheim on the last day of the season requiring a point to join the Royal Blues in the UEFA Champions League next season.

While Dortmund’s 2-1 reverse on Saturday against 14th place Mainz was entirely frustrating- given the opportunity to finalise a top-four place was at stake-praise should be offered to the club’s Revierderby rivals.

Indeed, after three seasons finishing outside the top four-including a disappointing tenth place finish last season-Schalke have had an enormously impressive season to finish only below runaway leaders Bayern Munich in the table.

Bringing in 32-year-old manager Domenico Tedesco has proven to be a shrewd appointment given their vast improvement on last season under Markus Weinzieri. After four managers in four years (Jens Keller, Roberto di Matteo, Andre Breitenreiter and Weinzieri), it seems that Schalke may finally have settled on a manager who can bring success to the club.

With Brazilian centre-back Naldo being three years older than the current Schalke coach-and given his noticeable lack of coaching experience, it was a huge gamble to bring in Tedesco ahead of the current campaign.

Yet, Tedesco has stabilised the Royal Blues’ defence, with Naldo looking very assured alongside Benjamin Stambouli and 21-year-old Thilo Kehrer. Only Stuttgart and Bayern have conceded fewer goals than Schalke’s 37 so far this season, a testament to Tedesco’s coaching ability.

After early season defeats to Bayern and Hoffenheim, Schalke responded with a superb run of form, as they became incredibly difficult to beat. 13 games without a loss in all competitions set the foundations for their second-place finish as they have gone on to win 17 of their 33 league games so far over the course of the season.

While this is 10 less than Bayern’s total of victories-who are clearly a class above the rest of the division-it is already six more than Schalke could register last season.

A notable highlight during the season was coming back from four goals down at half-time to draw 4-4 with Dortmund at The Signal Iduna Park in November. Naldo’s 94th-minute equaliser sparked off joyous celebrations for the away side, who then proceeded to defeat their rivals 2-0 in the reverse fixture last month.

It will be an opportunity to increase their victories to 18 with a home game against seventh-place Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, the final game of the season.

Following their celebrations at Augsburg on Saturday, Schalke will be able to play with freedom and go out and enjoy the occasion in front of their home fans.

It will be tenser for Dortmund fans this weekend, but they will be hoping they can do enough to join Schalke in the Champions League next season. Failure to do so would be an almighty choke given the top-four is firmly in their hands.