All this talk (I started) about Borussia Dortmund being the second-best team in Europe looked pretty foolish after 45 minutes in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke had scored two early goals in their Revierderby, and if it wasn’t for Mario Götze clearing a ball off the line, the game could have been out of reach by halftime. Instead, Schalke went to intermission looking like the early season version of themselves.
That was a team that went into Dortmund in October and earned a 2-1 victory. Then, Schalke looked destined for a top four spot and showed the potential to comete with the big two, but a mid-season fall thrust the Miners mid-table. A recent run of seven points in three games pulled them back to sixth, but with their wins coming against Fortuna Dusseldorf and Wolfsburg, there was almost no hint Jens Keller’s wildly inconsistent team would be ready for a side that routed Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
But rivalries have a weird way of changing everything, and the Revierderby is one of the biggest in Germany. Sure, most of the time I think all the magic of derbies talk is a bunch of hooey, but today it proved true. Over the first 45 minutes, Schalke looked like Dortmund — controlling, fluid, clinical with their chances — and Dortmund looked like Schalke. They were passive, overwhelmed, and unable to match Schalke’s energy.
The second half started with both teams reverting to type, with Robert Lewandowski’s 59th minute score giving BVB the last half hour to find an equalizer. But that proved one of the few times Timo Hildebrand would be stressed. Dortmund had 61 percent of the possession, but they only put three shots on goal. Schalke forced Roman Weidenfeller into eight saves.
The 2-1 moved Schalke into fourth, a remarkable standing considering how bad they’ve been all winter. Frankfurt could knock the Royal Blues out of the top four tomorrow, but that’s almost beside the point. Schalke is in contention for a Champions League spot. Mid-week against Galatasaray, they’ll be favorites to move into the final eight of this year’s competition. Despite two or three embarrassing months, Schalke’s still in line for a very successful season.
And that season has seen them take six points from Dortmund, a team that’s already in the Champions League quarters – one that should finish in second place in Germany. Whether those upsets are the magic of derbies or the team’s bipolarity, who knows.
Regardless, you get the feeling Schalke wouldn’t mind being drawn with their rivals should they make the Champions League quarters.
Here are the highlights, with Schalke’s opening goal a particularly special piece of execution:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1b7yg10xSw]