BERLIN, March 7 (Reuters) - Improving Schalke 04 have the perfect platform to get their Bundesliga season back on track when they take on champions Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s biggest soccer derby on Saturday.
Unbeaten in the last four games in all competitions after their implosion late last year, Schalke seem to have found their old form and are eyeing a Champions League qualifying spot after climbing back up to sixth in the Bundesliga.
The Champions League competitors, who take on Galatasaray in their round of 16 second leg next week, are aware victory over Dortmund, fresh from their own Champions League last eight qualification, would do wonders to their self-confidence.
“We have been playing well in the past few weeks and have been undefeated in the last four games,” said Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. “This must stay like that after the derby and we want to extend our run.”
Schalke beat Dortmund in the Ruhr valley derby in October but they were a different team at time, sitting comfortably in second place behind Bayern and enjoying a good start to the season.
The match was also marred by clashes between rival fans with some 200 taken into custody.
“We want to show exactly that performance on the pitch again,” Huntelaar told his club’s website (schalke04.de). “We have to be aggressive in order to be successful.”
“You can feel the derby is approaching because we have a lot of fans watching the training and they are not there just for the weather,” he said.
Schalke, who will be without suspended midfielder Jermaine Jones, will move into fourth place and back into contention for a spot in Europe’s premier club competition with a win on Saturday.
“We are desperate to go back into fourth and for that a win in the derby would be hugely important,” said last season’s Bundesliga top scorer. “But a win alone would be additional motivation for the coming weeks.”
Dortmund will be no easy task, however, with the champions flying high after reaching their first Champions League quarter-final in 15 years following a 5-2 aggregate win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
The league title looks beyond them with Bayer Munich enjoying a 17-point lead, but Dortmund will want to avoid a slump in the final stretch.
They could be without captain Sebastian Kehl and midfielder Sven Bender, who are both injured. Kehl is nursing a cracked rib while Bender injured his ankle against Shakhtar.
“That is always the big problem for the coach,” said Dortmund’s Juergen Klopp. “You can celebrate for four seconds and then you get back to the changing room. We will have to see how it goes in the coming days.”
Bayern have a far easier task, hosting promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf while third-placed Bayer Leverkusen, a point behind Dortmund on 45, travel to Mainz 05. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann. Editing by Patick Johnston)