Schalke end scoreless drought and take all three points from Stuttgart
By Peter Vice @ViceytheSS
FC Schalke 04 finally broke a scoring drought of over 400 league minutes against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday night. Two first half goals proved sufficient for the Bundesliga's last-placed side to earn their third win of the season; a crucial 2-1 victory over relegation rivals Stuttgart.
Still missing preferred wingers Soichiro Kozuki and Tim Skarke, Schalke trainer Reis kept Marius Bülter, Dominik Drexler, and Michael Frey stationed on the top attacking axis. Injuries to left-backs Jere Uronen and Thomas Ouwejan forced Reis to make some changes to the back line. After hinting that he was toying with the idea of a back-three during a Thursday presser, Reis ended up sticking with the back-four. Fullbacks Uronen and Cedric Brunner were replaced by Henning Matriciani on the left and Mehmet Aydin on the right. Stuttgart gaffer Labbadia, meanwhile, kept the precise same XI from last week's big home win in place.
The hosting Königblauen made the better impression during the opening ten minutes. Reis' men controlled the flow of the game through almost uninterrupted possession. Schalke still failing to aloo truly menacing amid a game plagued by stoppages until the opening goal came in the 10th. S04 keeper Ralf Fährmann unleashed Matriciani, who in turn located Frey. The home team's lead striker cut-back for Drexler from the baseline and an emphatic finish gave die Knappen just their second goal in seven fixtures in the new calendar year.
The Swabian guests mustered up only a lackluster response to falling behind with a few half-chances that barely tested Fährmann. Some credit was nevertheless due to the Schalke defensive pairing of Maya Yoshida and Moritz Jenz, who snapped the center shut with aplomb. Some 15 minutes before the stroke of half-time, the Westphalian's began pushing for a second in earnest. The 2-0 hung in the air as half-time approached.
Finally, five minutes before it was time to head into the tunnel, Rodrigo Zalazar (after a couple of goes himself) served up Bülter for the second goal after some nice work from Frey. Zalazar looked exceptionally good dribbling past Borna Sosa. Bülter took an artistic touch just prior to the fabulous 40th minute finish. Schalke took a deserved 2-0 into the dressing room.
Labbadia reacted to the deficit with a double change at the restart. Dan-Axel Zagadou and Tanguy Coulibaly relieved Gil Dias and Hiroki Ito. The trailing team managed to produce more pressure, denied the first pullback goal only by some sloppy finishing and solid goaltending from Fährmann. Some three minutes after Josha Vagnoman came on for Waldemar Anton, the VfB actors began to look more confused.
Just when it seemed as if a goal would not be forthcoming for the Württembergers, Sosa did manage the 1-2 in the 63rd. The Croatian fullback marched into the penalty area unchallenged and made Fährmann look most mortal with a finish the club veteran could have absolutely held. Fährmann redeemed himself with an incredible save on Endo three minutes later. Silas unfortunately turned the rebound over.
There was plenty of more VfB attacking action down the agile Sosa's left-hand side as the game headed towards its conclusion. Genuine chances nevertheless didn't materialize. It remained nervy for Schalke via a series of corners through seven minutes of injury time. The hosts hung on and kept their nerve until the full-time whistle finally blew.