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Sports

Leroy Sané's return to form offers hope to Schalke's Champions League ambitions

After dropping him for Schalke's last four games, Andre Breitenreiter has brought Leroy Sané back into the fold. The 19-year-old recaptured his early-season form against Mönchengladbach driving Schalke to a valuable win.

Schalke's win on Friday against Borussia Mönchengladbach was vital to their hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League

after they finished outside of the top-four last term.

But the result was even more important for one man, Leroy Sané, who was making his first start this month, after spending the last four matches on the bench. His second-half contributions helped his side collect all three points and his display may help make him a key player for Schalke again.

Until Friday's match, 2016 had not been a great year for Sané

, as he had begun to fall off the pedestal people were propping him on in the first half of the season. His output had become mediocre, leading to Schalke coach Andre Breitenreiter dropping him from his squad and relying instead on January acquisitions Younes Belhanda and Alessandro Schöpf . To top it all off, Joachim Löw elected to leave him out of Germany's squad for March friendlies against Italy and England after giving him his national team debut in November.

Breitenreiter called on the teenager in the must-win match though, and he was clearly intent on taking the opportunity. He looked to the sideline often to make sure he was in the place his coach wanted him to be, and tracked back more frequently than he usually does. It seemed only a matter of time before his efforts would lead to something and, sure enough, he helped break the deadlock to give Schalke a very valuable three points.

"Leroy is a good player, but he is young. Don't forget he is 19," Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg told DW after the game. "We all think he has to score two goals every game but he is still learning. As a young player when you are learning, there will be good moments and difficult moments. Leroy is working well everyday and trying to keep straight, and he is doing a very good job."

A shot of confidence

Schalke's first goal may have been a fluke, bouncing off two defenders before rolling into the back of the net, but Sané's shot which led to it certainly was not. Winning possession, taking on a defender, and shooting a ball into a six-yard box that turned out to be a pinball machine highlighted his best attacking attributes. The resulting goal may not have been spectacular, but it seemed to help Sané to regain some lost self-esteem.

After the goal, his runs were a little sharper and his pressing a little harsher, and he added a touch of vigor to his passing that has been missing from Schalke. Gone was the player trying to fight for his place, for Sané had his first-half swagger back.

Breitenreiter must have noticed this because he elected to take Max Meyer off when Belhanda came on rather than the reinvigorated teenager. Sané rewarded his coach not long after, picking out Leon Goretzka who finished for his first league goal of the season.

"First of all, I would like to say I am very, very happy for him," Goretzka told DW at full time. "For him, it is not easy. He got a lot compliments in the first half of the season, and now everyone thinks he can win the game alone. I am very happy he had a good game today and helped the team to win."

When Sané eventually came off, the crowd gave him a respectful applause, though it was one more of appreciation rather than hope. His assist was his first goal contribution since January, so apprehension from his supporters was probably deserved. His performance was one to commend, but it needs to happen more consistently in order for Schalke to get back to the Champions League.

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