Schalke staked an impressive claim to fourth place with a 4-1 win over Hamburg. The man of the match was convalescent striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored three. Hamburg started strong and faded fast.
It isn’t often that a team with a -10 goal differential has a chance to move into fourth and a potential spot in the Champions League this late in the season. But that’s precisely the position Hamburg were in when they arrived in Gelsenkirchen to face Schalke.
For a while it looked as though they would take that unusual opportunity. Schalke came out dozy, and when they failed to clear a corner in minute five, Marcel Jansen headed in to stake the visitors to the lead.
The Royal Blues woke up, though, and four minutes later Michel Bastos levelled the score with a well-angled left-footer past Hamburg keeper René Adler. The assist came from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who was returning from injury after six weeks out.
And the Hunter himself doubled Schalke’s lead in minute 21 with a tap-in goal. Younster Julian Draxler danced his way through the Hamburg defense before sliding the ball over for the Dutchman.
After the break, the action was a bit more subdued. But in minute 58, Raffael got in behind the Hamburg back four and crossed back low. Huntelaar dove to head in. You could almost sense a hat trick was in the air, and the striker duly obliged eight minutes later, heading in a ball that Adler couldn’t quite deflect out of the danger zone.
Coach Jens Keller knew who he had to thank for the 4-1 win - Huntelaar.
"If you're missing a player like that for weeks, it's pretty bitter," Schalke coach Jens Keller said in a post-match interview. "We very glad to have him back."
Schalke have a three-point and better-goal-difference cushion in fourth and look headed to the Champions League qualification spot. Hamburg tread water in eighth – and now have a -13 goal differential.
No winner in Mainz
Sunday’s early match featured local rivals Mainz and Eintracht Frankfurt. This fixture is usually a hard fought affair, and this edition was no exception – with the chance at European competition at stake for both clubs.
The two teams basically cancelled one another out in the first half, which featured a dearth of chances. Alex Meier came close with a volley just before the half-time whistle, but Mainz keeper Christian Wetklo was paying attention.
Immediately, after the restart, Mainz went on the break and had the ball in the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside. It was a close, but correct call by the referee.
Little of note happened for the next 35 minutes. Then Frankfurt caught Mainz out after intercepting a poor lateral pass. But Sebastian Rode couldn't find a way past Wetklo. The match ended scoreless.
"We can live with the point," Frankfurt coach Armin Veh told reporters aftetr the match. "We're still in the race for a place in Europe, and we're happy about that."
The result means that Frankfurt edge past Freiburg into fifth place. Mainz are in tenth and would need everything to go their way to claim a place in Europe.