Two of the most important games of Schalke’s season have fallen within four days of each other. After the massive 2-0 home win in Sunday’s Revierderby against Dortmund, the Royal Blues will be fighting for a place in the DFB Pokal final on Wednesday – standing in their way are Eintracht Frankfurt. While Schalke are very-much on course for Champions League qualification, the visitors from Frankfurt have had something of an unsettled week for the first time this season, with head coach Niko Kovac’s departure for Bayern München confirmed and the 4-1 defeat away to Leverkusen that followed.
Time and time again, the two sides have crossed swords in the DFB Pokal, meeting for the ninth time since 1942. Curiously enough, the team that progressed alternated each time they met.
Their last encounter dates back to the 2005/06 season, when Frankfurt sent Schalke crashing out in round 2 with an emphatic 6-0 victory. If this fixture’s DFB Pokal tradition is to live on, it would now be the Royal Blues’ turn to eliminate Frankfurt and book their place in the final.
"Eintracht Frankfurt are a robust team, a team with lots of quality that has pulled together and grown as a unit – deservedly in the top third of the Bundesliga table. We are pleased to be taking on this semi-final challenge in front of our own fans," said Domenico Tedesco, who will definitely have to make do without centre back Matija Nastasic after he tore his posterior cruciate ligament in the side’s 3-2 defeat in Hamburg. Leon Goretzka, however, will be fit to play against his future coach.
Just like in the previous two DFB Pokal rounds, Schalke welcome a Bundesliga opponent to the VELTINS-Arena. Tedesco’s men knocked out Köln in the Last 16 and Wolfbsurg in the quarterfinal, winning 1-0 both times. In fact, neither teams’ roads to the semi-final bodes for a high-scoring game on Wednesday: both Schalke and Frankfurt have conceded just three DFB Pokal goals this season. Frankfurt do, however, boast the competition’s highest scorer this campaign in Sébastien Haller with four goals.
Much like goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann, Schalke defender Bastian Oczipka is responsible for the prevention of goals – the man who once wore the Frankfurt jersey. "I am very excited to play against my old teammates," said the 29-year-old, before adding: "Some people may think that Frankfurt at home was the best possible draw we could have got for the semi-final, but it’s away from home where Frankfurt are so strong."
In the Bundesliga this season, Frankfurt have recorded six victories on their travels. They have, however, also lost their last five away games. In the DFB Pokal, on the other hand, the Eagles have progressed to the next round from each of their last six ties on the road. A win on Wednesday in Gelsenkirchen would match a club record from the period between 2003 and 2007. "No matter the opposition, no matter where, our goal remains the same: Berlin," said sporting director Fredi Bobic.
Both sides boast a positive semi-final record: This will be Schalke’s 20th appearance in the last four of the competition, having progressed to the final twelve times from their 19 attempts so far. Despite not having featured quite as often, Frankfurt go into Wednesday’s tie with an even better semi-final win ratio of seven from twelve. Furthermore, Frankfurt’s latest semi-final success was as recent as last season, when they prevailed against Gladbach after a penalty shootout. For the first time since 2007, Frankfurt have reached the DFB Pokal semi-finals two years on the trot.
Schalke’s last semi-final appearance was seven years ago - a 1-0 win over Bayern München in the 2010/11 season saw the Royal Blues go on to lift the DFB Pokal for the fifth time in the club’s history. Frankfurt’s fourth and most recent DFB Pokal title dates back to 1988.
Despite recent developments confirming Niko Kovac’s departure for the record champions in the summer, the visitors will go into Wednesday’s semi-final with courage. Kovac is unbeaten against Schalke as a manager (two wins, two draws), and Frankfurt have won nine of their ten DFB Pokal games under Niko Kovac’s management.