Schalke face awkward customers Wolfsburg

February 14, 2008

BERLIN, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Schalke 04 have been revelling in their role as Germany's sole Champions League survivors but whether the new mood can survive another visit from VfL Wolfsburg on Friday (1930 GMT) is open to question.

Schalke have won three Bundesliga games out of three since securing their place in the last 16 of the Champions League back in December and that run of form has taken them up to third place, five points off the pace.

If they make it four in a row on Friday night it will be enough to take them above Werder Bremen and into second spot, at least for a night. Even leaders Bayern Munich may be left feeling a little nervous at that prospect.

Wolfsburg are down in ninth place but Schalke will have no cause for complacency going into the game.

When the two sides met in the Cup just over two weeks ago it was Wolfsburg who came through, winning on penalties after the match finished 1-1 in 120 minutes.

It was grim stuff for the neutral but it showed just how awkward a side Wolfsburg can be.

Under Felix Magath, the former Bayern coach, they have steadily improved this season and, like Schalke, have now won three successive league matches.

'They're an unpredictable team,' Schalke coach Mirko Slomka told reporters this week. 'When they came here for the Cup game they played in a formation they'd never used before.

'The key for us will be to analyse that game and learn from it.'

Slomka will, of course, have half an eye on next week's Champions League match at home to Porto.

On Friday he will definitely be without the suspended Carlos Grossmueller and Jermaine Jones plus the injured Zlatan Bajramovic.

The rest of Germany's title challengers will have to prove their powers of recovery after UEFA Cup matches this week.

Bayern, who play at Hanover 96 on Sunday, have to hope they suffer no further injury problems against Aberdeen on Thursday, with five first team regulars already on the casualty list.

Bayern lead the standings by three points from Werder after the two sides shared a 1-1 draw in Munich last weekend.

Werder enjoyed a 3-0 win over Braga in the UEFA Cup on Wednesday, meaning they should have a spring in their step when they host Nuremberg on Saturday.

It will be a tough first match in charge for new Nuremberg coach Thomas von Heesen, after he was brought in to replace the sacked Hans Meyer this week.