New season: Schalke 04 look forward

Two days before the opening match of the German Bundesliga season, Schalke 04 are getting ready to take on champions VfB Stuttgart.

updated: August 10, 2007 08:36 IST
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Two days before the opening match of the German Bundesliga season, Schalke 04 are getting ready to take on champions VfB Stuttgart.

After finishing runners up last season, Schalke are hoping to win the title for the first time in 50 years.

Coach Mirko Slomka is looking forward to the new season and believes it is good to start with such a tough match.

"We are happy to be part of the opening match. I think it is good for our team to be able to present ourselves in such a big match at the beginning of the season," said Slomka.

Midfielder Gustavo Varela and defender Mathias Abel will both miss the opening game, while striker Halil Altintop is struggling with injury.

But the hardest job for Slomka's team will be to compensate for the absence of Brazilian playmaker Lincoln, who moved to Galatasaray in June.

Slomka is confident his team can change their style to compensate for the Brazilian's absence.

"This position of Lincoln, which we can fill with at least three players, is not that crucial anymore, because I've seen that the other players take responsibility and push our game forward. And that is very important for the team as it is not possible to directly replace a player like Lincoln anyway," added Slomka.

Schalke have signed three new midfielders, including Jermaine Jones from Eintracht Frankfurt.

But the biggest hopes are pinned on youngster Ivan Rakitic, who's joined from Swiss side FC Basel.

The 17-year-old Croatian midfielder is expected to be groomed as Lincoln's long term replacement, and has been given the number 10 shirt.

"We talked about his strength very often and we saw them in Basel. That's why we signed him. I think Ivan will make his way here in Schalke and we will work together well with him to improve his play. And I think that he will soon be in action," said Slomka.

But the management have had to face criticism for their transfer policy, and not just from the fans.

Striker Kevin Kuranyi publicly insisted the team needed to be strengthened further, which caused a conflict between him and manager Andreas Mueller.

"Kevin knows exactly that we try everything possible to optimize our team. But one thing I won't let happen, and that's what I told him clearly, is to discuss such things in public. That doesn't exist.

"He knows that and he doesn't have to repeat that criticism. We clearly talked about that. I know what is possible to build the best possible team," said Andreas Muller, Schalke 04 manager.

The opening game at Stuttgart will be a good test of both sides title credential, Bayern Munich are favourites to win the championship, with Werder Bremen expected to be the other strong contender.