Out of the German Cup and off the title pace in the Bundesliga, FC Schalke 04 are "under pressure" to salvage something from an indifferent first half of the season by defeating FC Basel 1893 to prolong their UEFA Champions League challenge. Kevin-Prince Boateng, though, insists they are up to the task.
The equation for the Royal Blues is simple. Beaten at the Stadion Gelsenkirchen by TSG 1899 Hoffenheim a week ago, Jens Keller's men must complete a Group E double over their Swiss visitors if they are to swerve another cup exit on home soil. Anything less and it will be their opponents who join Chelsea FC in Monday's round of 16 draw.
"I haven't noticed a day here without pressure," said attacking midfielder Boateng, who joined Schalke from AC Milan in the summer. "Since I've been here, the team and the coach have felt pressure, but we can handle this. We know we are under pressure playing at home, but as I've said, this has always been the case. The coach will give us the right advice and we'll make it to the next round together."
Schalke's European campaign also started with a high-stakes encounter. Having drawn 1-1 at home to PAOK FC in the first leg of their play-off tie, the 2011 semi-finalists travelled to Greece knowing they had to score to avoid dropping into the UEFA Europa League, which is where they will end up if they fail to overturn Murat Yakin's side. It is an experience captain Benedikt Höwedes is drawing on.
"In Salonika we had a final where we had to win," said the centre-back. "We managed it and that's why I have a lot of confidence for tomorrow and I hope we will take the three points. We also know Basel have a good team – they have beaten Chelsea twice – but we're the home side and this must be to our advantage. Basel's only advantage is that they don't have to win to qualify. It is 50-50."
Schalke's 1-0 victory in Switzerland on matchday two remains their most recent continental triumph, Keller's charges having since lost home and away to Chelsea and drawn 0-0 in Romania with eliminated FC Steaua Bucureşti. A repeat performance would be gratefully received by Boateng.
"In Basel we defended very well and launched good counterattacks," explained the Ghanaian international who, with Keller deploying no recognised striker that night, played as the most advanced of a phalanx of attacking midfielders. "This should be our plan again. We must be strong in defence and then sting like a bee on the attack – like blue and white bees of course."