Having reached the Champions League quarterfinals, Schalke are effectively among Europe's eight strongest teams. However, their poor form closer to home in the Bundesliga seems set to cost coach Felix Magath his job.
Huntelaar, Raul and the rest of Schalke are headed in two directions
Schalke's season to date has been something of a tale of two teams. It was the best of times in European and cup competitions, but too often the worst of times in domestic league football.
According to reports in the German press, even Wednesday's Champions League win against Valencia - booking Schalke a spot in the quarterfinals - won't be enough to save coach Felix Magath from the ax at the end of the season.
The Royal Blues beat visitors Valencia 3-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate, though the game remained tense until the very end.
Schalke fell behind early, and coach Magath said the turning point came towards the end of the first half.
"What made the difference was the equalizer that Jefferson Farfan scored shortly before the break, and the fantastic save Manuel Neuer made to prevent them from going through," Magath told reporters after the match.
Jefferson Farfan (left) equalized for Schalke just before halftime
Swiss youngster Mario Gavranovic scored Schalke's second after the interval, and in injury time Farfan added a cheeky chip to his precision freekick earlier in the match.
In the evening's other Champions League match, Tottenham ground out a 0-0 draw against visitors AC Milan, meaning the English side go through courtesy of their 1-0 victory at the San Siro.
Bundesliga form plaguing Magath
When asked on German television after Wednesday's match whether the reports of his forthcoming dismissal had compromised Schalke's preparations, Magath reverted to a quote from one of Germany's most famous coaches, Otto Rehhagel.
"Let me tell you what I told my players before the match, we mustn't get distracted by all this background noise, we don't need to worry about it either. As one of our greatest predecessors once said, the truth is on the pitch," Magath said.
"You're asking the wrong person," Magath said when asked if he would stay at Schalke. "I'm not bringing any unrest here. I'm doing my job, and I intend to continue doing so until 2013."
Fans held up "Pro Magath" signs to support the coach
On first inspection, you'd be forgiven for wondering why Magath's job at Schalke could possibly be in danger. In the last few weeks, his side knocked Spain's third-best team out of European competition, beat Bayern Munich in the German Cup semifinal, and even went to Dortmund and held the runaway Bundesliga leaders to a goalless draw.
"This season, Magath has improved Schalke's financial situation, booked them a place in the German Cup final, and now he's taken them to the Champions League quarterfinals. If that is deemed as failure, I would say Felix Magath must be the most successful failure in football," DW's soccer expert Paul Chapman said.
However, over their last six games, Schalke also lost 2-1 at bottom-of-the-table Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1-0 against relegation-threatened Stuttgart.
In the Bundesliga, Magath's men are a lowly tenth in the table, and their recovery from a woeful start to the season remains fitful. Unable to string a decent run together, and especially lackluster against weak opponents, Schalke will be looking to the German Cup as their ticket back into European football next season. They're heavy favorites to win the final against second division MSV Duisburg.
Magath departure could open floodgates
Magath has been wheeling and dealing furiously on the transfer market ever since joining Schalke, trying to restructure a club whose finances were in disarray when he arrived.
Magath tried to address fans' greivances on the Facebook website
"I don't think people have ever quite grasped just what Felix Magath is doing for this club," Paul Chapman said. "When you consider that these cup successes are being achieved by a team that has been almost hastily thrown together this season, after so many of the old guard left at the end of last season, I think they've done remarkably well. But there's so little patience in modern-day football."
Putting Magath's potential dismissal aside, Schalke's staff turnover is likely to stay high. The team still spends almost half its income on player wages, and is going to have to continue Magath's controversial culling program to avoid bankruptcy.
Over the past 18 months, Manuel Neuer - unquestionably Schalke's most valuable player of the season - has gone from a promising young player to a serious candidate for the best goalkeeper in the world, and top clubs like Bayern Munich and Manchester United have been connected with the German national keeper. The 20-million-euro ($27.8-million) price tag conservatively attached to Neuer might prove too tempting to turn down.
As well as the legions holding signs saying "Pro Magath," hundreds of Schalke fans brought banners reading "Manu, stay" ("Bleib Manu") to the Valencia match, imploring the local boy Manuel Neuer to stay between their sticks.
Peruvian winger Jefferson Farfan, who scored that crucial brace in Wednesday's game, also made it very clear over Christmas that he would like to leave the club. Spanish veteran Raul, who Magath hired on a two-year contract, may not be so happy to stay if the man who gambled on signing him has since been dismissed.
If Felix Magath's professional future is currently bleak, Schalke's could be positively desolate without a man who Paul Chapman rates as "one of the best coaches in modern-day football."
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Holly Fox