Schalke ready for Steaua as Bayern loom
Schalke admit facing a stern test of their European credentials over the coming days as they prepare to take on Steaua Bucharest and then Bayern Munich in quick succession.
Romanian title-holders Steaua are the visitors in Gelsenkirchen in the opening game in Champions League Group E, before Schalke entertain defending Bundesliga and European champions Bayern on Saturday.
"This isn't a warm-up for the game against Bayern," Schalke's general manager Horst Heldt said of the Steaua encounter.
"This is a great experience in the competition in which everyone wants to play, we're all looking forward to it.
"We definitely want to get through the group stage, which is why we want to win this match (against Steaua)."
Schalke have turned their fortunes around in recent weeks, following up defeats to Wolfsburg and Hannover with three straight wins in all competitions.
They have been helped by the arrival of Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who scored in Saturday's 1-0 win at Mainz, and the former AC Milan man is looking forward to making his European bow for his new club.
"We're up for this. If we are as focused, I am confident that we can do it again ," said Boateng, who has bought a VIP box at the Veltins Arena for a five-figure sum only three weeks after signing for the club.
The hat-trick of wins has taken the pressure off coach Jens Keller, but the 42-year-old admits the boost given to the club by the arrival of Boateng has been vital in helping lift the team back up to a more respectable ninth place in the Bundesliga.
"We are incredibly happy that we have him with us," said Keller of the man who scored twice in Milan's play-off round win against PSV Eindhoven but who is eligible to feature in the group stage for Schalke.
"Behind the scenes, I think the rest of the team is currently coming up a bit too short.
"That said, the entire team is currently playing with a lot of focus."
In a group that also contains Chelsea and FC Basel, Steaua should be the ideal opening opponents for a Schalke side still finding their feet without first-choice striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The 'Hunter' is out with a knee injury and, in his absence, talented Hungary striker Adam Szalai will play in front of Julian Draxler, Boateng and Peru's Jefferson Farfan.
"If we play again with as much focus and concentration, we should get the three points against the Romanians," insisted captain Benedikt Hoewedes.
Steaua are in the group stage after coming up through three qualifying rounds under coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, who came up against Schalke coach Keller when both played in the Bundesliga.
"I faced him on the pitch years ago and looking at how his team is playing and how far they got, he has done a good job," said Keller.
"Steaua are a very good, very aggressive team with players who run a lot.
"If we put in the same type of performance as we have displayed in the last few Bundesliga games, we will be very hard to beat, but our big goal is surviving the group stage."