Despite a bitter defeat in the DFB Pokal against Energie Cottbus, there was one positive for 1899 Hoffenheim and it came in the form of new signing Ryan Babel. The Dutch forward made a good first impression, though it wasn't enough to change the outcome. Ahead of the match with Schalke 04 the 24-year old will avoid going up against compatriot Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who misses out due to injury. Of course Babel has also welcomed the arrival of Edson Braafheid, another Dutchman, something that is sure to help with his integration in the team. "We speak the same language, which means we can help each other out." With both players operating on the left side Braafheid believes, "our link-up play could be fantastic. I have a good feeling about it all."
Schalke looking stronger after break
One point from the first two games in the second half of the season is not good enough for Marco Pezzaiuoli and co. On Matchday 20, 1899 face a trip to Gelsenkirchen ready to go up against Felix Magath's team, who have been performing well below expectations. The Royal Blues, who have themselves welcomed several new faces to the fold this season have finally begun to find their feet and sit in 10th on 25 points, one less than Hoffenheim. "Schalke are on the up. Despite a poor start to the season, they are rediscovering their dominance", explained Pezzaiuoli. However, it is worth noting that they are still involved in the UEFA Champions League and went one better than 1899 by reaching the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal.
Creating chances and using them
Pezzaiuoli believes there are several similarities between Schalke 04 and his up-and-coming team as they too brought in several new faces, albeit at the beginning of the season. "This young team needs time. They have to find themselves before we can move forward", stated the 42-year old. As to whether the team has enough quality to take points home with them is no in question though: "We've got to remember how we played in the first half of the season when we won 2-0 and put in a terrific performance." The most important thing will be staying compact at the back. Against Energie Cottbus, 1899 often found themselves defending a counter attack too often for Pezzaiuoli's liking. "When we've got the ball we have to be more compact. It's important we create clear cut goal scoring chances, but more important that we make them count."
Obasi, Gulde and Grahl all missing
Pezzaiuoli has almost a full squad to choose from barring the long-term absentees of Chinedu Obasi, Manuel Gulde and Jens Grahl. On top of that each of the new signings are all available and raring to go as they look to use the chance to demonstrate what they can bring to the team. The two latest signings, Dutch duo Ryan Babel and Edson Braafheid, in particular have a good chance of starting the match on Saturday, while David Alaba is likel to keep his place having impressed since his move from FC Bayern. Roberto Firmino, however, is unlikely to start after suffering from the flu during the week that has limited his participation in training. The young Brazilian who was on the bench against Cottbus will have to wait for his first outing in the Hoffenheim colours. Elsewhere Vedad Ibisevic should return to lead the line after returning from suspension.
Stats and Facts
Hoffenheim's record against Schalke 04 is a positive one. Having met five times in the Bundesliga the Kraichgau outfit have only lost on one occasion, whilst recording two wins and two draws in the other encounters. Felix Magath's team are the in form team right now though having won four of their last five matches, while 1899 are without a win in six matches. The Royal Blues will need to be aware of the threat that Hoffenheim pose from dead-ball situations as they have found the back of the net on 16 different occasions, a statistic only bettered by Bayer 04 Leverkusen.