Schalke v Eintracht Frankfurt – Veltins-Arena at 19:30 live on BT Sport 3
The Bundesliga made a record-breaking return from its winter break last weekend with Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky the unfortunate and unwanted star of the show on Saturday.
The Finish stopper raced out of his area to shut down the run of RB Leipzig full-back Bernardo but slipped and opted to smother the ball with his hands despite sitting five yards outside of his area. The referee had no choice but to issue a red card.
Just 131 seconds after the game kicked-off, Hradecky’s sending off represented the fastest dismissal for a goalkeeper in the league’s 54-year history. Frankfurt conceded from the resulting free-kick and never recovered, going down 3-0.
Eintracht were one of the Bundesliga’s surprise shooting stars pre-Christmas. Niko Kovac’s stubborn outfit broke a club record when conceding only 12 goals in their first 16 fixtures whilst piercing the top-six.
Key defensive injuries
But the Eagles have been suffering from key defensive injuries of late and five of their regular starters at the back are unavailable for Friday’s night trip to Schalke. With Hradecky now suspended, Frankfurt will be using their sixth defensive combination in as many games in Gelsenkirchen.
Schalke hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Eintracht, either. The visitors are winless away at the Royal Blues since 1999 – a run of 14 fixtures across all competitions – and despite a huge improvement in results during Kovac’s reign, picking up results on the road remains an issue.
Frankfurt have fired blanks in each of their last three away days, claiming a sole success in seven and losing 12 of 19 games as guests. Under Kovac alone, the Eagles have W4-D2-L8 on their travels and been blanked in 9/14 (64%) encounters. It’s not pretty.
Hosts’ injury strife
In fairness, Schalke are also enduring their own slice of injury strife. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was approved to play by FIFA following his wrangling with Cameroon and Nabil Bentaleb should be back in the fold following Algeria’s elimination from the African Cup of Nations.
Benedikt Howedes overcame a hip injury to start last weekend but Breel Embolo, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Franco Di Santo are all still sidelined, leaving the hosts short of fit and available forwards. It’s perhaps no surprise to then see the Royal Blues have only scored four goals in their last five outings.
Last weekend Markus Weinzierl’s troops needed a stoppage-time winner to bag maximum points at home to struggling Ingolstadt. The winner came via debutant Guido Burgstaller, who was prized away from second tier Nuremberg where he had been the top scorer in the division so far this season. He could be the answer to Schalke’s goalscoring needs this weekend.
Schalke should come good
The Royal Blues failed to impress against Ingolstadt – the Royal Blues only won the shot count 15-14 with their visitors firing in more on-target attempts – but with Bentaleb presumably back in the starting XI, the side should at least benefit from a bit more balance in midfield.
Schalke have tended to start slowly at the Veltins Arena – seven of nine contests under Weinzierl have been level at the break – but they have tended to get the job done lately. With five victories from seven, coupled with Frankfurt’s rotten road record and key defensive injuries, I’ll support the hosts here.
The 1.91 available on Schalke -0.50 in the Asian Handicap betting market is too kind to turn down. Despite not finishing in the Bundesliga top-four since the 2013/14 campaign, the Royal Blues have still won 23/43 (53%) of their home league fixtures, offering us a value price for Friday night.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Schalke -0.5 at 1.91
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