BERLIN (Reuters) – Schalke 04 are desperate to revive their Bundesliga campaign for a top-four finish and douse reports of a rift between coach Andre Breitenreiter and the club management with a win at Darmstadt 98 on Saturday.
The Ruhr valley club are still smarting after missing a bagful of first half chances in last week’s 3-1 defeat to Werder Bremen.
Schalke missed out on a Champions League spot last season and have slipped to sixth in the league on 27 points after squandering a fine start to their campaign.
Last season’s runner-up VfL Wolfsburg, rivals for a top-four spot, are only a point behind in seventh.
With just two wins in their last nine league games and only a point to show for in their last four away matches, Schalke need to turn things around quickly if they are to challenge for a spot that leads to next season’s Champions League.
“We did not use our chances against Werder. We played against ourselves,” said Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. “Football is strange sometimes.”
“We just need too many chances to score at the moment. But that will change,” said the Dutch forward, with Schalke having scored three goals in their last three matches.
Breitenreiter, who will be without injured captain Benedikt Hoewedes for the coming weeks, is under mounting pressure following the team’s bad run.
Sport director Horst Heldt denied reports this week of a rift between the 42-year-old coach and club bosses, saying Breitenreiter enjoyed the club’s trust.
For goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann, the current media speculation was a distraction as the team focuses on Saturday.
“It does not help the team if suddenly, after one defeat, everything is being questioned,” Faehrmann said. “It is frustrating as we are trying to build something here and that does not happen in a day.”
“What we are missing at the moment is goals. We are not rewarding ourselves for our efforts.”
Promoted Darmstadt, in 12th place and only three points above the relegation playoff spot, are brimming with confidence following last week’s 2-1 victory over Hanover 96.
Leaders Bayern Munich, on 49 points, will be without central defender Jerome Boateng, out for at least several weeks with an adductor muscle injury, when they host struggling Hoffenheim in their quest for a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title.
Second-placed Borussia Dortmund, eight behind on 41, entertain Ingolstadt with the league’s best offence taking on the second-best defence.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)