"A wounded animal is a dangerous animal," the adage goes. And Schalke are in many ways wounded as they prepare to take on Bayern Munich on Saturday.
Last October the Gelsenkirchen side looked one of Europe's strongest sides, having beaten Arsenal 2-0 in the Champions League and Dortmund 2-1 in the Bundesliga, both away from home. But things have since gone horribly wrong.
A dismal run of form to end the first half of the season saw head coach Huub Stevens sacked. His replacement, Jens Keller, has had little more success, and Schalke 's record of form currently stands at just one win in their last 10 matches in all competitions.
Last week they lost at home to Fuerth, which was the Bavarian side's second win of the season. Having sorely underestimated their opponents, Schalke can only hope that was their nadir.
This weekend, Schalke face an altogether different level of Bavarian competition in the form of Bayern—and to make matters worse, the match will be held at the Allianz Arena. In any season it would be a challenge for any Bundesliga side to visit Munich. But in 2012-13, it's even tougher.
The German record champions have dropped just nine points in the domestic league this season, having won 16 of their 20 fixtures thus far.
Still, for the Bavarians to underestimate Schalke would be a mistake. There is an abundance of talent in the Ruhr side, from Germany internationals Benedikt Hoewedes, Julian Draxler and Roman Neustaedter to Brazil hotshot Michel Bastos. Even though Christian Fuchs is suspended and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is expected to miss the match due to an eye injury, there is more than enough class in the S04 squad to pose trouble even for a top team like Bayern.
Schalke may be in abysmal form right now, but could at any time break out of their slump. Typically, turning points in form come not long after the lowest of lows and against the best opponents, when the pressure and motivation are at a peak. Schalke are halfway there following the Fuerth loss, now they face their toughest match of the season in Munich.
Bayern have been wary all season of opponents playing above themselves, however, and should be well prepared for the task at hand. Only Leverkusen have beaten them in the Bundesliga during the current campaign—incidentally that game was also played at the Allianz Arena—and that came in the midst of a stint in which the beleaguered Bavarians played seven matches in just 21 days.
When Bayern visited Gelsenkirchen in September, they met a Schalke side in peak form and in many ways met their match. It was a close game that by all statistics could have gone either way.
Schalke took 17 shots to Bayern's 14, won 61 percent of their tackles, and lost the battle for possession by a modest margin of 57 to 43 percent. But the Bavarians won 2-0 thanks to two brilliant goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller, scored in rapid succession early in the second half.
On Saturday, at 18:30 CET, Bayern take on an ailing Schalke side, one that was in a dearth of form even before Huntelaar and Fuchs were forced to withdraw. S04 may need a miracle to get a positive result in Munich, but will be more motivated than ever. Bayern must proceed with care, lest they make the same mistakes their opponents made against Fuerth last week.