Schalke seek to match European form on home soil
BERLIN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Schalke 04 are on a great run in Europe but unless their domestic form picks up in the next two games, starting away to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, they stand little chance of being back in the Champions League next term.
Schalke's 1-0 win at home to Porto on Tuesday will have given the side a shot in the arm in terms of confidence, with a place in the Champions League quarter-finals now within the club's grasp for the first time in their history.
But while Mirko Slomka's team have shown great resilience in Europe, their form at home has been patchy. They are already out of the German Cup and with 20 Bundesliga games played they are in fifth place, eight points behind leaders Bayern.
That makes the next two league games, away to fourth-placed Leverkusen and then at home to Bayern the following weekend, crucial to their season.
Win both, and they will be right back in with a chance to challenge for the title.
Lose, and their only realistic chance of getting back into the Champions League next season will be as defending champions.
'The best possible preparation for the second leg in the Champions League will be six points from the next two league games,' coach Slomka told reporters after Kevin Kuranyi's goal had secured victory over Porto.
'We've been prone to lapses in concentration in the Bundesliga but we avoided those mistakes against Porto.'
A win on Saturday would moved them up to third place for at least 24 hours.
Bayern are at home to Hamburg SV on Sunday, after those two sides have taken care of UEFA Cup duty on Thursday night.
Bayern still don't know if French playmaker Franck Ribery will be fit enough to return following his hamstring injury, while Rafael van der Vaart remains a doubt for Hamburg, who are six points behind Bayern in third place.
Werder Bremen, who are three points behind the leaders in second spot, have even less time to recover from their UEFA Cup exertions away to Braga on Thursday.
Thomas Schaaf's side are away to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, when the prize for victory will be to move level on points with Bayern.