With a few things out of the way, it's time to get the Schalke train rolling again, and we're certainly rolling. The away derby was the next big test, a match we don't usually do well in. We drew but we didn't have to wait long before the tide turned in our favour again, as both Hamburg and Bayern started dropping quite a few points each. Hamburg became closest to our otherwise unstoppable tail but having gone ahead and then 2-1 behind when we played them, a draw was a good result from our perspective. Unfortunately we finally stumbled again in the last league game before the break, a typical shock 1-0 defeat where you go behind then spend the rest of the match throwing a lot at the opposing goal with no luck. However that still left us ahead of Hamburg (just) and 4 ahead of Bayern, who hadn't had the best month or so. Turns out they are mortal after all.
This puts us in a great position. It may still be tight at the top but as I mentioned in a previous update, we were getting our toughest games out of the way already. In fact we've already gone to the rest of the top 6. I knew that if we survived the inevitable bunch of dropped points from those matches and were still roughly level at the top, that would be a good situation, and to think that we were a shock defeat away from being in an even stronger position, especially being at home against all the stronger teams (not just out close rivals) from this point. Despite winning the title a few years ago I knew it would be frustrating trying to do it again for a few years and establishing ourselves at the top, however we clearly look better this time as we benefit from a more settled side and the younger stars having some experience under their belts. This could be the season we show we mean business now.
In Europe, we bounced back from defeat against Feyenoord to win the return, along with Anji beating Sevilla. That put us top of a 3-way race to qualify ahead of facing Sevilla at home, a win (combined with results going our way again, this time Anji losing to Feyenoord) already securing top spot as well as qualification, which was a given after beating the Spanish side. I still didn't really field much of a weakened side in the last game at Anji (though we had nothing to play for), though did give a chance to a few fringe youngsters who otherwise would be too risky to use much with the stakes being to high. That included their former keeper we signed in the summer. It was still a little disappointing to go behind but I was glad to get a draw at least. Interestingly enough a draw in the other match meant that Anji would have pipped Sevilla to the second qualification spot if they had kept their lead against us, knocking out the holders. So did winning the group give us a more managable draw?...
Not really, though it probably could have been worse than Marseille. They're one of those 'good but beatable teams' with a few stop quality players but without that strength in depth, though they're hardly bad. It's not easy to rate our chances but on balance I feel we have an edge.