Ronald Koeman is determined to remain positive as Valencia CF take on FC Schalke 04 looking for their first points since beating the German side on Matchday 1.
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It is the moment of truth for Valencia CF, the critical juncture when their chances of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds will either remain alive for another two weeks or wither and die against an FC Schalke 04 side also hopeful of emerging from Group B intact.
Determined to stay positive even though the odds are stacked against them, Ronald Koeman insists his team will qualify. And the Valencia coach struck an equally forthright note when he revealed that Santiago Cañizares will retain his place in goal, thus dashing Timo Hildebrand's dream of facing his fellow countrymen.
The Spanish international was at fault when Valencia lost 1-0 at Real Racing Club Santander on Sunday, a fifth league defeat of the season which leaves them in sixth place in the Primera División. Yet on the eve of this crucial UEFA Champions League fixture, Koeman was quick to say: "Cañizares will play. We cannot change the team every week. I have talked to him and he knows he made a mistake."
Pressed to explain why he prefers the Spaniard to Hildebrand, Koeman declined the opening. He was more forthcoming about the task ahead of Los Che who lie bottom of the section having taken just three points from their four games. Those points all came on Matchday 1 at Schalke but the return match finds the German challengers one point better off than their hosts.
"We have to win our last two matches [Valencia finish their campaign at Chelsea on 11 December]," said Koeman, who has a doubt over Miguel Ángel Angulo and is considering starting with Edu, back at the weekend after more than a year out. "But all we are thinking about at the moment is beating Schalke. If we can do that, then we can start thinking about the next match."
Matchday 4 was a depressing experience for Koeman and his charges as his first European game in charge ended in a shock 2-0 home loss to Rosenborg. Since then Valencia have tasted victory and defeat in their two Primera División outings, though the Dutchman has detected improvements in his side. "On Sunday we did not play so well in the first half, but in the second things were coming together much better. Nevertheless there is still a lot of hard work to do."
Schalke are buoyed by Saturday's 3-2 Bundesliga triumph at Hannover 96 – and the scoring return after injury of two-goal Kevin Kuranyi. They know they will be asked to do a lot of defending at Mestalla, but believe if they can prove efficient on the counterattack and score first then the advantage will be theirs. "We have come to Valencia to win and there is a lot of motivation for us," said coach Mirko Slomka. "It is very important for Valencia to win but it is also very important for us that we win." Jermaine Jones is their only doubt after an ankle problem ruled him out of the Hannover game.