FC Schalke 04 are billing themselves as outsiders for the UEFA Champions League Group E visit of AC Milan - and believe their underdog status will help them against last season's finalists.
Schalke began their campaign with a 1-0 defeat at Milan's 2004/05 semi-final victims PSV Eindhoven, while the Rossoneri produced two late goals to see off Fenerbahçe SK. A second loss would leave Schalke in a prematurely precarious position, but general manager Rudi Assauer is bullish, precisely because of the size of their task.
'Nothing to lose'
"Don't get me wrong but I have always said the match against Milan is the easiest one for us," he declared. "We are outsiders despite being at home and therefore the team have absolutely nothing to lose. Form beats class in football and we hope that our form is good enough to beat Milan's class."
Assauer's optimism is boosted by Schalke's display in the 2-0 Bundesliga win against Hannover 96 on Saturday. Coach Ralf Rangnick, who will have striker Ebbe Sand available after the Danish international recovered from a back problem, wants his side to continue where they left off.
Rangnick said: "The match against Hannover showed us exactly the way we have to play and I am sure the special Champions League atmosphere will help us raise our game even more. We can give Milan a run for their money if we manage to improve by ten or 20 per cent."
No sitting back
The coach added that he wants his team to take the game to Milan to get the goals needed to win. "I don't think we can afford to sit back and wait as we have done at times this season," he said. "Milan have too much individual class for that. We must take the initiative and keep them busy."
Visiting coach Carlo Ancelotti is not afraid of Schalke attacking his side, though. "We are looking forward to an exciting contest, a beautiful stadium and a great atmosphere," he said. "Hopefully we can play the game we are best at and make it a typical away game for AC Milan."
Respect for hosts
Despite Schalke's defeat in the Netherlands, Ancelotti is not making the mistake of underestimating the 2004/05 Bundesliga runners-up. "We have obviously had Schalke watched. They have found their form and they are a very competitive side - I hold them in the highest esteem," said Ancelotti, who could have Massimo Ambrosini back from a muscle injury.
With the hosts eager to exert pressure on the Rossoneri defence, Serie A appearance record-holder Paolo Maldini and company could have their work cut out. But the Milan captain, who surpassed Dino Zoff's domestic mark at the weekend, said Schalke will do well to score.
"We haven't conceded a goal in our last two games and would like to keep it that way against Schalke," Maldini said. "We are not prepared to let them create chances. I am optimistic we will do well."
So how can Schalke breach that defence? Midfielder Fabian Ernst identified the simple approach. "We are finding our form slowly and must show Milan that we want it more from the word go," the German international said. "We must look to the basics before trying to play fancy football."
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