Schalke v Bayer Leverkusen – Veltins Arena at 17:30 live on BT Sport 1
Having been swept aside 3-0 by Bayern Munich last weekend, Schalke seemed intent on falling out with the national media in Germany, irritated by leaks to the press regarding the future of head coach Andre Breitenreiter.
The former Paderborn boss has been under pressure for weeks and although his public displays of confidence and affection towards his young squad reaped early rewards, the Royal Blues’ season has petered meekly out since late-October (W7-D5-L9).
Numerous ineffectual performance have suggested there’s little in the way of strategy, leadership or purpose in the current rudderless regime and Breitenreiter looks highly likely to leave the Veltins Arena when the campaign concludes.
Schalke are still in the running for a top-four finish, mind – trailing fourth-placed Hertha Berlin by four points – but failure to overcome in-form Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday evening could see those hopes extinguished.
Benedict Höwedes’ continued absence from centre-half has plunged the Royal Blues’ defence into a jittery mess whilst Klass-Jan Huntelaar’s struggles in front of goal have proven problematic for a side that enjoy playing on the attack.
Only a fortnight ago Schalke failed to see off Dortmund’s B-team in the Derby in arguably their biggest game of the season on home soil.
But whilst the hosts traditionally tend to struggle with an inferiority complex against the strongest sides, Schalke do actually boast a decent record when welcoming the league’s elite.
Since the start of last season, the Royal Blues have W9-D4-L2 when playing at home to top-half teams and it’s reason enough for me to leave Leverkusen alone, despite Die Werkself rolling out a five-match winning streak, all recorded alongside clean sheets.
A few weeks ago Leverkusen looked to be losing ground and fading away, and there were murmurs about the future of coach Roger Schmidt, but despite a crippling injury list they have recovered in spectacular fashion.
Keeper Bernd Leno has made some stunning saves in recent weeks, and centre-back Jonathan Tah has been a behemoth at the heart of the defence. Further up the pitch, 19-year-old forward Julian Brandt has sparkled with veteran Stefan Kiessling getting amongst the goals again.
Bayer’s surge has put them into third spot, six points ahead of fifth but there’s little margin for error with so many direct rivals all scrapping it out for Champions League qualification.
It’s a tough betting contest to call but Schalke do look underrated at 3.00 and so with an attractive 1.84 on offer for the Royal Blues with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start on offer, I’m more than happy to lend my support to the hosts.
The Gelsenkirchen club have suffered just five losses in 32 (16%) at the Veltins Arena and visitors Bayer have lost all five trips to top-eight teams this term, so the home side should be more competitive than the pre-match odds suggest.
Leverkusen left Schalke with a 1-0 victory here last season but that was one of only two away triumphs at top-six teams since the start of 2014/15 – the other, a curtain-raising success at Dortmund during their horrendous campaign last year.
Finally, despite 10 of the last 12 head-to-heads falling below the 2.5 Goals line, I’m happy to have a bite on the 1.83 offered for this contest to deliver three goals or more on Saturday.
Six of Schalke’s last seven, as well as 12 of their 15 fixtures against the top-nine this season, have featured Over 2.5 Goals winners and it’s proven a similarly profitable formula in five of Bayer’s six trips to the top-half in 2015/16.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Schalke +0.25 at 1.84 & Over 2.5 Goals at 1.83
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