Schalke took visitors Hanover to school on Easter Sunday, comfortably brushing them aside 3-0. Veteran Spanish forward Raul scored the opening two and nearly bagged a third shortly before being subbed out.
Germany's two beaten Europa League quarterfinalists locked horns in the Bundesliga on Sunday afternoon, days after being ousted from European competition. Home side Schalke looked too strong for visitors Hanover throughout, ultimately winning the game 3-0. Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen drew 1-1 in the evening fixture.
The Royal Blues opened the scoring against Hanover from a set piece after just five minutes. Jefferson Farfan lofted in a free kick from the right, Raul rose to head the ball into the bottom-left corner. Ron-Robert Zieler in the Hanover goal was powerless as the ball bounced in off the inside of the post.
Hanover had chosen a particularly attacking lineup, playing Mohamed Abdellaoue and Mame Biriam Diouf up front, with Didier Ya Konan playing a more reserved role off the strikers. Despite this, the side was unable to settle into an attacking rhythm in the first half, failing to pounce on the counter-attack when Schalke conceded possession. Hanover coach Mirko Slomka was forced to change his game plan on 40 minutes, as Abdellaoue gingerly limped off the pitch; he was replaced by Jan Schlaudraff.
The game remained 1-0 through half time, but with Schalke controlling the tempo.
Veteran Spaniard Raul was on hand with a touch of magic early in the second half to give his side a comfortable cushion. After some rather scrappy approach play, again with Farfan, the Real Madrid legend beat Zieler in style, dragging the ball to the right with his left foot before slotting it into the bottom corner with his right. The move was more than a little reminiscent of Davor Suker's notorius Euro 1996 strike for Croatia against Germany, albeit with less space from a tighter angle.
Farfan grabbed his third assist of the game just after an hour's play, after being released down the right flank by Atsuto Uchida. Farfan took his time, waiting for Zieler and Karim Haggui to commit themselves, then squared the ball to Schalke's top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutchman's 43rd goal of the season, his 24th in 27 Bundesliga appearances, was arguably the easiest of them all - a side-footed stroke into an open Hanover goal.
Raul tested Zieler again a few minutes later, following up a long range volley from Farfan with an audacious bicycle kick, but the Hanover youngster was equal to both shots.
The Spaniard, whose contract expires at the end of the season and who is locked in difficult negotiations with the Gelsenkirchen-based outfit, was subbed out to a standing ovation with 20 minutes left on the clock, making space for out-of-favor playmaker Lewis Holtby.
Sunday's result puts Schalke five points clear of Borussia Mönchengladbach in third in the league, but the side is six adrift of Bayern in second and nine points off leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Hanover later dropped to eighth in the table owing to the evening result - with the top seven league spots meriting European qualification for next season. Slomka's side could have jumped to fifth with a win.
A point apiece in Hamburg
Hamburg took another step away from the relegation zone after their remarkably troubled season on Sunday evening, securing a 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen went into the game with a new coaching duo after the dismissal of Robin Dutt. The former Leverkusen, Liverpool and Finland star Sami Hyypia sat alongside youth coach Sascha Lewandowski - who has the requisite coaching qualifications - in the dugout.
Hamburg looked the far stronger side throughout the first half, and converted that superiority into a goal after 40 minutes. Gonzalo Castro blocked a cross with his left arm - though that appendage was by his side as the ball struck it - in the penalty area, and Mladen Petric calmly dispatched the resulting penalty.
After a difficult first team talk for Hyypia and Lewandowski, Leverkusen looked rejuvenated early in the second half, drawing level with a bizarre goal from a corner kick. Leverkusen's first far-post header was cleared off the line, the ball rebounded onto another Hamburg defender's head, then flew straight back against Jaroslav Drobny's crossbar, and finally Andre Schürrle was on hand to head it home from point-blank range.
Hamburg's sporting director Frank Arnesen told Sky Germany after the game that he was largely happy with the performance against a contender for European competition, especially considering the uncertainty at how Leverkusen would play under new management.
"1-1 is ok, but if there was a worthy winner from today's match, I think it was HSV," Arnesen said. "Every game is a final for us at the moment, and our next game in Hoffenheim is certainly another."
Hamburg moves up to 14th in the league with that point, just two clear of the relegation zone. Leverkusen, meanwhile, climb to sixth place, still in the hunt for Europa League football despite their recent difficulties.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Chuck Penfold