Schalke left it late against Union Berlin, but thanks to their young German midfielder the club sit in second in the Bundesliga. The visitors from the capital were outplayed in the second half.
Schalke 2-1 Union Berlin, Veltins-Arena
(Raman 22', Serdar 86' - Ingvartsen pen. 36')
Suat Serdar looked at an imaginary watch on his wrist. The 22-year-old knew his late winner had indeed come just in time. Schalke edged out Union Berlin by overcoming a slow first half and a controversial penalty decision to move up the table. It's still too early to suggest this really is Schalke's year, but for a team that collected just 33 points last season, David Wagner's side is already eight points shy of that total with four games to go until the winter break. It's hard to say the signs don't look good.
Beating Union Berlin is a real step in the right direction for Schalke, who are becoming more ruthless - a trait often lacking in the Bundesliga's chasing pack in recent years. The newest top-flight team from the capital is top of the form table in the last five games, won the derby against Hertha, dispatched of Dortmund and beat surprise league-leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach. They are not the easy three points many predicted, as the first half proved.
Alex Nübel nearly gifted Union an early goal with an errant pass out the back - Matija Nastasic spared his blushes with a huge block. Union's pressing early was impressive and Schalke looked second best, until Benito Raman scored a contender for goal of the season. The Belgian smashed a bouncing ball on the edge of the box into the roof of the net and Schalke had a lead against the run of play.
Schalke overcome controversial penalty
Union were undeterred though, and got an equalizer they deseved albeit in controversial cirumstances. Robert Andrich played for a penalty, timing his tumble perfectly, Daniel Schlager rewarded him and Marcus Ingvartsen belted the spot kick home.
"The first half wasn't great, but we were much better in the second," Nübel said afterwards.
Both sides were winning 50 percent of their challenges. It was a game of few clear-cut chances, strong tackling and brave goalkeeping. Ozan Kabak made a superb block, before Serdar was denied at very close range by an active Rafal Gikiewicz. Both teams looked capable of nipping in to score, both looked capable of slipping up at the wrong moment.
Neven Subotic, one of the league's most experienced players, succumbed. Daniel Caligiuri stole in and laid it off to substitute Ahmed Kutucu. The teenager surged forward, slipped it across the edge of the box to Amine Harit, who, having drawn the defenders in, somehow got the ball across to the on-rushing Serdar.
"It's great work from Amine and Ahmed, and if I may say so myself, it's not a bad finish," a smiling Serdar said afterwards.
The midfielder curled the ball with aplomb into the far corner. It was a lovely, sweeping goal, and Serdar was off to celebrate in timely fashion. The goal, and the win that followed, is proof that David Wagner is making a visible difference to this group. "He gives each one of us confidence. We are not afraid to make mistakes," Serdar said of Wagner afterwards.
The 22-year-old was recently called up to the Germany squad, mostly due to an injury crisis. His recent form though, suggests that Joachim Löw will have to consider the 22-year-old more seriously in the future. Serdar is making fewer mistakes, and, supported by a tireless Weston McKennie, he is scoring more than ever before too. Serdar's goal to beat Union might have come just in time, but his days in the Germany set-up might be just beginning.