The term ‘relegation six-pointer’ could have been coined for this match alone. When matchday 28 kicks off on Friday evening, Schalke and Hertha Berlin go head-to-head with more than just three points on offer. With the two sides occupying the bottom two spots in the Bundesliga table, neither can afford to drop points and even more so against a direct rival for the dreaded drop.
Royal blues to be dethroned?
Despite finishing as 2.Bundesliga champions last season, it has been runners-up Werder Bremen who have survived their first year back in the top flight the better with Schalke once again facing a desperate fight to avoid a return to the second tier.
The Königsblauen ended the Hinrunde bottom of the pile with a paltry nine points from their seventeen games. They were seven points from safety and looking like guaranteed Abstieger. They still remain bottom but are boosted by the fact that the other struggling clubs continue to falter and there is still a chance that the Gelsenkirchener can pull off a ‘Great Escape’.
Successive victories over VfB Stuttgart and Bochum at the end of February/ beginning of March gave them hope, but the shoots of recovery have failed to blossom and after drawing with Dortmund in the Revierderby, Schalke have drawn with Augsburg and been beaten in their last two outings against Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim.
The display against Hoffenheim brought scathing criticism from trainer Thomas Reis, who scolded the entire team except for keeper Ralf Fährmann. “The first half wasn’t good enough for a side fighting for survival. The opponents wanting to get stuck in more than us is something that I can’t accept. You have to show a better mentality if the opponents have more quality and I didn’t see that from my team in the first half.”
Taking three points from Hertha and gaining revenge for the 2-1 defeat at the Olympiastadion on matchday 11 would be a good start in Schalke’s quest for survival. They would climb out of the bottom two (at least until Saturday’s games) and would then be able to look forward to carrying the change in fortunes forward. A defeat would see Hertha open up a four point lead before Stuttgart, Hoffenheim and Bochum play on Saturday.
They still face very tricky away games at both Bayern and Leipzig and face Freiburg, Mainz and Eintracht Frankfurt- all sides battling for Europe. Home advantage will be huge plus for the Königsblauen on Friday, it is now up to the team to give the fans a reward for the passion and more importantly, three potentially vital points.
Time to retire the Old Lady?
The awful sinking feeling of déjà-vu at Hertha Berlin is palpable with the capital club once again battling the drop at this late stage of the campaign. Last season saw die Alte Dame saved only via their play-off win over Hamburger SV and the feeling at the start of the season was that things could only get better.
That hasn’t been the case and despite some positive signs in phases of the season, history looks to be repeating itself and the real fear is that Hertha may not even get the opportunity to escape via 15th place and a play-off.
Hertha have spent virtually the whole season in and around the bottom three and find themselves only a single point above Schalke going into Friday’s crunch game.
There have been bright spots since the January restart with wins over Borussia Mönchengladbach and Augsburg, but there have more many more darker moments. Four consecutive defeats to start 2023 was not ideal and since beating Augsburg on matchday 22 they have taken just two points from a possible fifteen.
With the huge investment on the horizon from new backers 777 Partners, a demotion to the second division is not what was envisaged and not the best start to this new financial partnership.
“We know the situation in the table and where we’re starting from, but we have to focus on the way we play with seven games still ahead of us” Sandro Schwarz said this week. “Still, it is a very important game and an enormous chance. We need stability on the pitch, have to put up a fight and channel our emotions properly.”
Hertha’s run-in after Friday sees them facing Bayern at the Allianz Arena as well as other potential ‘six-pointers’ against Bochum and Stuttgart.
Friday is not exactly win or bust for Schalke and Hertha, but the team that takes three points will gain a huge boost going into the final push for survival. In all likelihood it won’t be pretty, but expect a game full of passion and endeavour as the bottom two go head-to-head.