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Schalke's confidence soars in Europe while Bremen plumbs new depths

Schalke 04 joined Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League after a confident 3-0 win over Lyon which hinted at a long-awaited return to form. Meanwhile, Werder Bremen continue to plumb the depths of despair.

Raul celebrates a goal against Werder Bremen

Could Raul and Schalke be about to take flight in Europe?

A team which had been struggling with a new faces and new tactics suddenly finds its feet in November, begins climbing the rungs in the Bundesliga and marches in to the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Sound familiar? The story of Bayern Munich's rise last season began, in some ways, like the unfolding tale of Schalke 04's campaign this time around. Bayern may never have flirted with the drop zone, but they began the season far off the pace. Right around the time Christmas markets began opening up across the land, however, they found their rhythm - and built up the head of steam which carried them to their very successful end.

It remains fanciful to believe that Schalke’s recent rampant form will be the start of a rise from the bottom to the top, resulting in Schalke snatching the title in May, but it certainly appears - like Bayern before them - that November is the month in which this Schalke team began to click.

Europe becomes Schalke's playground

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Huntelaar (m.) scored twice in Schalke's win over Lyon

Schalke, in contrast to their wretched league from, have played well in Europe nearly from the outset. After a blip in their first group game at Lyon, they have since won three and drawn one, a run of results which has seen them qualify for the knock-out rounds with a game to spare. They could even go through as group winners.

Wednesday night's performance at home to Lyon was the strongest indicator yet that Schalke have turned a corner. The team's movement and one-touch passing was of such quality that it was hard to believe they were the same group that had sunk so desperately low in the Bundesliga.

This was a truly European performance, with Jefferson Farfan and Jose Manuel Jurado showing ingenuity and pace enough to rip the French defense to shreds. Raul, meanwhile, showed a growing belief in his new team, and Klaas Jan Huntelaar's rediscovered scoring touch can only bode well for the coming weeks.

Schalke looked like they knew exactly what to do, and precisely what coach Felix Magath wanted from them. Even the Royal Blues' defense, which has been shaky at best for most of the season, gave a commanding performance; the much-maligned Christoph Metzelder and Benedikt Hoewedes in particular gave towering displays to cut out the threat from Lyon's ordinarily potent offense led by Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro Lopez.

Magath will now have confidence that his jigsaw is finally settling in place and that Schalke can continue their climb out of the lower reaches of the Bundesliga while progressing with flair in Europe.

Bremen in crisis as confidence goes AWOL

Tottenham's Luca Modric, second left, celebrates scoring against Werder Bremen with his teammate Peter Crouch, second right, during the Champions League Group A soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Werder Bremen at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010.

Down and out: Bremen's loss to Spurs ended their hopes

Werder Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf has it worse - much worse. Taken apart by Schalke last weekend in the league and dumped out of Europe by Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night, the North German club look destined to spend the remaining months of the season engaged in a fight for belief, if not survival, while Felix Magath's side rub shoulders with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Bremen look such a broken team that it's hard to see where any kind of recovery will come from. The team Werder sent out at White Hart Lane on Wednesday was a mix of shell-shocked veterans and overwhelmed reserves who were getting a game only because of the team’s injury woes. Tottenham were 2-0 up at half time, but the way the beleaguered Bremen squad left the pitch at the interval, they may as well have stayed in the locker room and taken the forfeit. (The game did end 3-0, as it happened.)

In the end, it didn't matter what the deficit was - Werder were eliminated from the Champions League. Moreover, they would need to beat European Champions Inter Milan in their final group game, and make up a seven goal difference on FC Twente to even have a chance of a place in the Europa League place. In other words, it’s not happening.

Bremen have a North German derby on Sunday against FC St. Pauli which would usually be billed as a David and Goliath clash. On recent form though, it's hard to say which is the skinny boy with the sling. Bremen's response to dropping out of European competition for another season at home to Pauli this weekend may determine their season.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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