Schalke’s future has been entrusted with a new coach. One of the reasons behind his appointment comes from his past. When Roberto Di Matteo celebrates his return to the Champions League with FC Schalke 04 on Tuesday evening (20:45 CEST), his biggest achievement will have come 885 days earlier.
Di Matteo beat FC Bayern with Chelsea on 19th May 2012 in the Champions League final in Munich. Di Matteo is now having another go in football’s most prestigious club competition. And the Italian with Swiss roots is banking on two German World Champions. Benedikt Höwedes has recovered from his injury and marked his return to Bundesliga action with a strong performance against Hertha BSC. Julian Draxler scored the second goal in the match, with a little help from Berlin’s defence.
Benedikt Höwedes earned this honour after playing his first 90 minutes since being ruled out for four weeks due to an injury. “Höwedes is an unbelievable player,” said Di Matteo about his captain following the victory in Berlin. “I’m so happy that he’s at Schalke. He has such a big effect on the defence. We have plenty of young players in the team who look up to him. He is a leader, both on and off the pitch.”
It was obvious during Di Matteo’s first training session with Schalke that the manager makes sure he conveys his ideas to Höwedes. “I’m an extension of the coaching staff,” said the World Champion, who also expressed his faith in the new manager: “I’ve worked with a few managers since I’ve been here. Every one has had a different philosophy. He’s made a good impression so far. He gives a lot, focuses on tactics and analysis and engages in plenty of conversations with the players.”
Schalke’s defence appeared to be a lot more stable in comparison to recent weeks, which was undoubtedly Di Matteo’s aim. The return of his chief defensive player Höwedes couldn’t have come at a better time. The Germany international was the best on the pitch in terms of tacking, winning 82 percent of his challenges. “We were trying to implement the manager’s ideas. It was by no means a massive step forward, but definitely a good and important move in the right direction,” said the captain. Schalke’s attacking players also fulfilled their duties. Striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored first, with Draxler then following suit. “We didn’t set off any fireworks,” said Draxler, “but we have three points. We deserved to win, and that’s vital. It’s important to the manager that we keep a compact defence and don’t get caught on the counter.” Höwedes was not only thinking about the victory, but also Schalke’s next hurdle. “It was an important victory. Now we have to kick on in the Champions League.”
A victory against Lisbon, whether it’s comes after setting off any fireworks or not, will put Schalke in better stead in terms of reaching the final sixteen. The Royal Blues recently came away from their away match against Chelsea with a surprising 1-1 draw and disappointed at home with a 1-1 draw against Slovenian underdogs NK Maribor. “Maybe it’s a crucial match,” said Di Matteo about the two matches against Sporting on Tuesday in the VELTINS-Arena and on 5th November in Lisbon.
Lisbon is also a place of significance from Di Matteo’s past. The Italian beat Benfica there with Chelsea on the way to his Champions League triumph in 2012. Now Schalke will go back to the future.