Bundesliga: Overachievers Schalke and Gladbach aim to remain in the frame
Having finished mid-table last term, Schalke and Gladbach both now sit in Champions League spots despite disappointments last time out. Both will be looking to bounce back when they face each other in Mönchengladbach.
The Bundesliga's form table over the last eight matches shows a familiar name at the top. But underneath Bayern Munich sit Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach, who have both picked up 16 points over that period.
Though the medium-term outlook is positive, both stumbled last time out – Schalke twice threw away a lead against Cologne while Gladbach were hammered in Wolfsburg. For Domenico Tedesco, Schalke's sloppiness taught them a lesson they'd do well to heed.
"Setbacks such as last weekend against Cologne are ones we need to avoid. We've gone over the game and are working on the training pitch to improve," he said in his press conference on Thursday.
Dieter Hecking doesn't seem to have been swayed by the Royal Blues' display last time out though.
"I'm not surprised to see Schalke so high up the table," the former Wolfsburg boss said. "They're an established side with good structure."
Tedesco was equally glowing in his praise of Saturday's hosts, who he described as an "exceptional team with the potential to challenge at the very top."
Schalke are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Cologne
Along with Hecking, who has transformed Gladbach since taking charge a year ago, Thorgan Hazard has been one of the key pillars of the Foals success this term. The Belgian attacking midfielder had registered a goal or assist in 10 consecutive Bundesliga matches – including a famous win over Bayern Munich – before his team drew a blank against the Wolves last weekend.
But Hecking revealed in his press conference that the 24-year-old had not trained earlier in the day and is "doubtful" for Saturday's match. Senegalese youngster Mamadou Doucoure has also suffered a setback after pulling one hamstring while recovering form an injury to the other and Christoph Kramer, Patrick Herrmann and Tony Jantschke all have fitness issues.
Schalke could also be without a key offensive figure, with Leon Goretzka encountering difficulties after the Cologne match. The German international hasn't completed 90 minutes since mid-October and remains doubtful, while Allesandro Schöpf will definitely miss out.
Though both teams look to be sitting pretty right now, with just five points separating RB Leipzig in second from Bayer Leverkusen in ninth, games against the other sides in the pack are taking on an extra significance, according to Schalke's young midfielder Amine Harit.
"We would be four points ahead of Borussia with a win," the 20-year-old told Schalke's website. "That would definitely improve our situation going into the busy period before the winter break. I promise we'll give everything."
Elsewhere on Matchday 15
Stefan Ruthenbeck will take charge of Cologne for the first time on Sunday
- Cologne face their first Bundesliga match since the sacking of Peter Stöger and it couldn't be much bigger. The Billy Goats host Freiburg on Sunday and, while a first league win of the season would take them to within six points of the visitors, a loss would leave them a minimum of 11 points from safety. Caretaker-boss Stefan Ruthenbeck's reputation could be made or broken.
- Two more sides in desperate need of a win meet on Saturday when Werder Bremen travel to Dortmund. The visitors have won two of their last three but are still second-last in the league, while Dortmund haven't beaten top-flight opposition since the end of October. Bremen's Thomas Delaney fancies his side's chances: "We need to get points against opponents who are objectively better than us. I don't see why we can't win against Dortmund," he said.
- One of the league's worst home sides welcome one of the best on the road when Eintracht Frankfurt host leaders Bayern Munich on Saturday. Niko Kovac's men have beaten only Werder Bremen and Stuttgart at the Commerzbank Arena this season while Bayern hold the division's second-best away record (behind Frankfurt). However, Jupp Heynckes' first defeat in his latest spell came away from home when Bayern fell to Gladbach on November 25. Despite a host of injuries and that somewhat unfortunate loss, Bayern's midweek display against Paris Saint-German didn't offer Frankfurt too much hope.
Matchday 15 fixtures
Stuttgart vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Friday 8:30 p.m. CET)
Borussia Dortmund vs. Werder Bremen (Saturday 3:30)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Bayern Munich
Hamburg vs. Wolfsburg
RB Leipzig vs Mainz
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Schalke (Saturday 6:30)
Cologne vs. Freiburg (Sunday 1:30)
Hannover vs. Hoffenheim (Sunday 3:30)
Augsburg vs. Hertha Berlin (Sunday 6:00)