After a return of just four points from five games during November, Schalke have to be cautious not to slip off the pace at the top of the Bundesliga, skipper Benedikt Howedes has warned.
It had been a great end to October for the Royal Blues. Huub Stevens' team managed to win three games in a row, beat Ruhr rivals Dortmund away and after a 2-0 win at the Emirates take the pole position in their Champions League group. With 20 points Schalke were leading the chase for league leaders Bayern Munich and only trailed the Bavarians by four points.
A month later Schalke have been overtaken by Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund in the league standings and sit fourth, not only falling 13 points behind Bayern but also only holding a four-point lead on Borussia Moenchengladbach, who are currently ninth.
"We must be cautious not to slip off," Howedes said after the club's 3-1 defeat to Hamburg on Tuesday night. But the Germany defender denied that the club were in crisis, adding. "Just think about where we stand in the league. You can't talk about a crisis."
Ahead of the Hamburg game Stevens had made changes to his attacking formation. Finland international Teemu Pukki and €5 million man Chinedu Obasi were starters for the first time this season, replacing Germany internationals Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby .
"The coach fielded a couple of new players," Howedes said. "But all eleven players on the pitch did not play well.
Local paper WAZ turned the spotlight on Stevens after his changes didn't pay off with the headline: "Schalke's most important personnel matter is called Stevens" and Kicker asked "What happens to Stevens?" raising the debate of whether the manager has eked enough from his squad, and not just his regular starters.
Stevens wasn't willing to entertain the idea that the demands of competing on three fronts was taking its toll.
"We didn't perform. It's as simple as that. That's no excuse even though it's obviously important for us to work on recovery every day."
Stevens, in his second stint in charge of Schalke 04, is in the last year of his contract and so far the club have not discussed the prospect of an extension. Talks are due in January, when general manager Horst Heldt will review the club's progress.