Schalke snap skid with win against Hannover
Johannes Geis returned from suspension to slam home a penalty kick and end Schalke's five-game winless run in the Bundesliga with a 3-1 win over Hannover.
Geis' strike on 51 minutes put Schalke in the driving seat before a goal from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made it 2-0. Despite Allan Saint-Maximin's thunderous strike, Franco Di Santo restored the two-goal cushion that moves Schalke temporarily into fourth before the other Champions League contenders face-off across the weekend.
Schalke's aspirations of returning to Europe's premier competition had taken a bump of late with a series of losses in the league. The Royal Blues hadn't won since a last-gap victory over Hertha Berlin with successive defeats coming against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Hannover, meanwhile, helped their battle to avoid relegation with a 4-0 win over Ingolstadt last week.
There are few clubs in Germany keen to mythologise its history more than Schalke. From its coal-mining connections in Gelsenkirchen to its pre-war championship-winning teams, won with class and skill, its players now elevated to legendary status among a new generation of supporters. Before kickoff, the home supporters put on a dazzling choreography, focusing on 'Myths, Dreams and Titles' with black-and-white footage from its greatest era on the giant stadiums screens.
History can be an awfully large burden, but the club without a Bundesliga title to its name appears to have something magnificent in 19-year-old Leroy Sane. The fact that Sane – son of former Senegalese pro Souleyman - is one of their own makes it all the more sweeter for Schalke fans. One is right to exercise caution around young professionals, however it's hard not to get excited by the attacking-midfielder.
Although Sane starts from the left, he isn't restricted to wide positions. He threatened as early as the ninth minute to put Hannover under some early pressure. On 14 minutes, Geis' inviting free-kick was headed towards goal by Benedikt Höwedes, but it struck a red shirt and was eventually booted clear of the penalty box.
Hannover's win last week was their biggest for two years and the Reds moved clearer of the drop zone. The injury in midweek to Danish youngster Uffe Bech will have been a blow for the Lower Saxony club where former US international Steve Cherundolo is on the coaching staff following a long playing career there. Head coach Michael Frontzeck, a former Manchester City player, was forced into an early substitution in the 15th minute, the injured striker Artur Sobiech swapped for Charlie Benschop. Hannover then appeared to lose a degree of defensive stability as Schalke took a firm grip of the first half, creating several excellent scoring opportunities.
Sane's impact on the match was terrific. Schalke's speedy winger committed defenders throughout the half, while working for the team, chasing lost causes and intercepting in defensive positions. Sane headed Sascha Riether's cross into the arms of Ron-Robert Zieler before the 19-year-old combined with Meyer who stabbed the ball past the post.
The traffic was emphatically one-way as the home side transitioned brilliantly from defense-to-offense, but the breakthrough was still not forthcoming. After a desperate attempt to clear on 35 minutes, Hannover's defense failed to clear again as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar headed over the top five minutes before the whistle. Zieler sprung fast off his line to narrow the angle and prevent the deceptive Sane from sneaking behind and scoring the opener in the final minute of the half.
Wave after wave of attack kept Zieler on his toes – his stop from Meyer on 46 minutes was comfortable, but a sign that a goal was highly-likely. Four minutes later, Huntelaar turned on a sixpence inside the box, leaving Marcelo with little choice but to grab a hold of his shirt and referee Wolfgang Stark pointed to the spot. Geis thumped in the opener emphatically from 12 yards out.
By the hour mark, Schalke led 17-3 on shots taken and the Reds were hanging by a thread. Meyer, thoughtful and attentive, found space around the edge of the box, crossing the ball into the path of Huntelaar, the Dutchman slamming high into the net from close range. The experienced Dutchman hasn't been at his best this season with only four goals this season in the Bundesliga.
Hannover's brief push forward, at least, showed that Frontzeck's men do have something to offer in attacking positions. Kenan Karaman hit the woodwork on 79 minutes and 18-year-old substitute Allan Saint-Maximin fired past Ralf Fährmann to give the visitors hope. But that was extinguished less than 60 seconds later as Franco di Santo scored his second league goal of the campaign. It might not have been against the pick of the bunch in Germany's top-flight, but Schalke's first win in five will have eased the pressure on Breitenreiter.