Back stunning Schalke to win again
Schalke are one of the Bundesliga's form teams, and Kevin Hatchard expects them to keep up their winning streak on Friday night against Mainz.
Schalke are absolutely flying, and last week's 2-1 victory at Bayer Leverkusen gave them their eighth Bundesliga win in the last 11 matches. The Gelsenkirchen club are fourth in the standings, two points behind third-placed Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund, and three points adrift of second-placed Bayer.
Although the defence is still prone to getting caught square, the unit is looking more solid thanks to the sterling work of centre-backs Felipe Santana and Joel Matip. Teenage midfielder Leon Goretzka had an outstanding first half at the BayArena, picking Lars Bender's pocket for the opening goal and causing problems for Bayer all over the field. The return from injury of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has given the Royal Blues a cutting edge in attack, and the Dutchman's flicked header for the winner was a classic striker's goal.
Jens Keller's men are playing well everywhere at the moment, but they have been particularly strong at home of late, winning their last five league games at the Veltins Arena. Keller has no fresh injury worries, and forward Chinedu Obasi could be available after a thigh injury. Julian Draxler and Benedikt Howedes are both progressing well in their recoveries, but although Draxler might make the bench, I'd be surprised to see either player risked ahead of the forthcoming Champions League clash with Real Madrid.
Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel is working wonders once again, and his side has won four of the last five games. The "Carnival Club" are currently seventh in the table, and are genuine contenders for a Europa League spot. That said, Mainz have tended to struggle against the teams that are currently in the top six - in seven games against them they have won one, drawn one and lost five. Earlier in the season, Schalke won 1-0 at the Coface Arena thanks to a goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng. It's also worth considering that Schalke have won five of their last seven home games against Mainz.
Schalke's form for the last couple of months has been outstanding, and I think they'll be too strong for a Mainz side that struggle against top-class opposition. Mainz's cause could be further damaged by the absence of midfielder Joo-Ho Park, who has a hamstring problem.