FC Schalke 04's home draw in the Ruhr derby against BV Borussia Dortmund means they have failed to stay in touch with the top three in the Bundesliga and leaves the Gelsenkirchen side facing a year without UEFA Champions League football.
The final whistle on Saturday was met by 61,000 spectators in the Arena Auf Schalke expressing their disappointment at the 0-0 scoreline, a feeling likely to have been shared by Schalke's new head coach Mirko Slomka, who was hoping for more from his home debut. "This was a step in the wrong direction," said team captain Ebbe Sand.
The expected three points against their local rivals would have given Schalke the means to chase leaders FC Bayern München or at least put pressure on Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV, who currently lie second and third respectively. Instead the "Royal Blues" find themselves six points adrift of a qualifying berth for Europe's most prestigious club competition.
Schalke need UEFA Champions League participation to finance new investment in players and, despite the urgent need to improve their form, director of football Andreas Müller remains hopeful. "The next few weeks will show if we can get back on track," he said. "But I have to admit that the team has played better this season than against Dortmund."
Having scored only 22 goals in 19 league matches, Schalke's problems are easy to pinpoint. German international striker Kevin Kuranyi has not scored for 475 minutes and Brazilian playmaker Lincoln has only contributed two assists so far. "Every player has difficult periods in his career, all they need is a moment of success to break through," added Müller. "There are still 15 matches to play and we have to meet Bremen and Hamburg again. We still have the chance to outrun them."
Despite Müller's optimism, the pressure at the club is growing by the week. Schalke started the season with the aim of becoming the country's main challengers to Bayern but failed to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout stages and have struggled in the Bundesliga. Sacking coach Ralf Rangnick before the winter break and promoting his former assistant Slomka was designed to boost the quality of the squad but progress is still awaited. "The draw with Dortmund was a major setback for us," said Danish forward Sand. "To be realistic, it will be difficult to reach the [UEFA] Champions League again."
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