Resurgent Schalke out to see off Steaua

17 September 2013 09:40

Rejuvenated Schalke 04 will be hoping to continue their winning form since Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng's arrival as they tackle Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Having only signed from AC Milan in August, the former Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder helped break Schalke's worrying early season slump when he made his debut in the 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

The 26-year-old then scored his first goal for the club in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Mainz to leave Schalke unbeaten in their last three games, starting with their dramatic 3-2 win at Greece's PAOK in the Champions League play-off.

UEFA rules stipulate Boateng is cleared to play for Schalke in the Champions League even though he scored twice for AC Milan in their play-off win over PSV Eindhoven.

The uncompromising Ghana international has added some backbone to Schalke's midfield alongside talented teenager Julian Draxler and insists spirits are high in the Royal Blues camp.

"We're up for it, that's clear," said Berlin-born Boateng, whose half-brother Jerome plays for European champions Bayern Munich and Germany.

"We were defensively very strong in Mainz, you have to pay the boys in defence a compliment.

"We have to do that again against Steaua and if that works, I think we'll be able to get a positive result."

With Schalke currently mid table in the Bundesliga, victory over Steaua in Group E would relieve the pressure on coach Jens Keller.

Schalke will feel they have a good chance of progressing in a group in which Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are the favourites and will see the Germans travel to Swiss champions FC Basel in a fortnight.

The Royal Blues' main injury worry is Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has been out for the last five games with a knee injury.

After finishing fourth in the Bundesliga last season, Schalke needed a gutsy away win in Greece to come through the play-offs and reach the Champions League group stages in a competition in which they reached the semi-finals in 2011.

After a 1-1 home draw with PAOK in the play-offs, Jens Keller's side faced an uphill task in the return in Greece when striker Adam Szalai's opening goal was cancelled out and midfielder Jermaine Jones was sent off.

But Draxler and Szalai struck second-half goals to steer Schalke through 4-3 on aggregate.

Romanian champions Steaua, the 1986 European Cup winners, came through three qualifying rounds to return to the group stage for the first time since 2008-09.

Currently fourth in the Romanian league, Steaua made three signings on transfer deadline day, including experienced Greek international forward Pantelis Kapetanos, back after more than two years at CFR Cluj.

The 30-year-old scored 27 league goals in his first spell at the club, between July 2008 and January 2011.

Cape Verde Islands international centre-back Fernando Varela was also brought in to replace Vlad Chiriches, who was sold to Tottenham Hotspur.

While Schalke reached the last 16 last season before losing to Galatasaray, the stats are against Steaua, who have won just four of their 36 matches in their seven Champions League campaigns so far.

Their last victory came at Dynamo Kiev more than seven yers ago and since then they have recorded two draws and six defeats.

Source: AFP

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