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Apr 5, 2015 at 2.30pm UK at WWK Arena
Augsburg
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SchalkeSchalke 04
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Preview: Augsburg vs. Schalke 04

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Bundesliga clash between Augsburg and Schalke 04.

Augsburg and Schalke 04 return from the international break on Sunday afternoon with just one point separating them in the Bundesliga table.

Schalke head into the match one place above Markus Weinzierl's side, and a win for either team could be crucial as they look to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.


Augsburg

FC Augsburg's headcoach Markus Weinzierl gives interviews prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Bayer Leverkusen vs FC Augsburg in the German city of Leverkusen on February 16, 2013© Getty Images

In recent years, Augsburg have hit new heights for a club still looking to prove they are deserving of a place in the Bundesliga, and a second successive top-10 finish certainly looks to be on the cards.

However, the squad may be left slightly disappointed with settling for another solid finish after threatening to break into the Champions League places for much of the campaign before losing ground on their rivals in recent weeks.

A run of one victory in seven league games has come at the worst possible time for Ausgburg, and it could be defeats to relegation-threatened Hertha Berlin and Freiburg which live longest in the memory.

Weinzierl's men head into the weekend seven points behind fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen, but the target is surely to clinch a Europa League spot with Hoffenheim currently sitting just a point back in seventh.

In the long run, qualifying for a European competition has to be considered success, but even that achievement could slip away if Augsburg fail to get back to their best at the weekend.

Just two losses in their last 12 home games should give them confidence, and the home fans will be hopeful that the prospect of leapfrogging Schalke in the table brings the best out of a side lacking in confidence.

Recent form: LDLWLL


Schalke 04

Schalke's players celebrate scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Schalke 04 v 1899 Hoffenheim in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on March 7, 2015© Getty Images

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that two sides so close to each other in the Bundesliga table are in similar form at the same stage of the season.

Since Roberto Di Matteo's arrival in Gelsenkirchen, Schalke have often threatened to hit top form and challenge the sides in the Champions League qualifying places, but consistency has been a big problem for a side which has won just one of their last six league games.

Schalke's hopes of playing in the elite European competition again next season suffered a big blow before the international break as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Leverkusen, and with six points currently separating them and fourth place, Di Matteo will need luck as well as a fine run of form in the closing stages of the campaign.

Rather than hoping for a top-four finish, many of the Schalke fans will now be nervously looking down the table as the likes of Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen keep the race for Europa League qualification alive.

Di Matteo quickly became a very respected figure at the club after replacing Jens Keller in October, but recent years have encouraged Schalke supporters to expect only the best from their side, and falling out of the top six will turn the heat up on the Italian heading into the summer.

In a season which has taken many twists, Schalke will be desperate to find the consistency that has been missing from their performances, and the pressure will quickly be relieved if they earn some breathing space ahead of Augsburg at the weekend.

Recent form: LDLWDL
Recent form (all competitions): DLWWDL


Team News

Dortmund's striker Marco Reus vies for the ball with Schalke's midfielder Max Meyer and Schalke's goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann during the German first division Bundesliga football match Borussia Dortmund vs FC Schalke 04 in Dortmund, western Germany, on March© Getty Images

Fielding his strongest side has been almost impossible for Di Matteo this season, but the Schalke boss is likely to have Ralf Fahrmann back in goal at the SGL Arena after his recent battle with a knee problem.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting should also be recalled to the squad after recovering from a calf injury, and he could replace Leroy Sane for the visitors.

Benedikt Howedes is set to return from suspension, but Julian Draxler will have to wait at least another week before making his eagerly anticipated comeback.

Augsburg will be without Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, who could miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, but Paul Verhaegh is pushing to be fit after seven weeks on the sidelines.

Weinzierl could hand a recall to Pierre Hojbjerg in midfield as doubts remain about the fitness of Nikola Djurdjic, with Raul Bobadilla in line to play as the central striker.

Augsburg possible starting lineup:
Hitz, Baba, Klavan, Verhaegh, Kohr, Feulner, Baier, Dong-Won, Hojbjerg, Bobadilla, Werner

Schalke 04 possible starting lineup:
Fahrmann, Howedes, Matip, Nastasic, Barnetta, Fuchs, Meyer, Hoger, Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar



Head To Head

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the only goal of the game in the reverse fixture back in October to hand Schalke their third successive win over Augsburg.

Schalke have not been beaten in the seven Bundesliga games between the two sides, and Augsburg have only managed to collect two points since reaching the top flight of German football for the first time in 2011.


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We say: Augsburg 2-2 Schalke

Both sides are battling to find their best form as they look to finish the season on a high, and a win for either team would be a big result in the battle for European football. However, we're backing the two struggling sides to play out an entertaining draw at the SGL Arena.



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11Werder Bremen83231112-111
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