BERLIN Schalke 04, coming off a 5-2 Champions League demolition of Inter Milan, face their former coach Felix Magath in the Bundesliga this weekend and it is unlikely to be the happiest of reunions.
Magath, who was fired by Schalke only three weeks ago and rejoined his former club Wolfsburg two days later, is famous for his tough training and discipline and was far from universally popular despite leading them to second place last season.
Several of his former players would be delighted to push him close to the second division as Schalke, who have won both matches under new coach Ralf Rangnick, host the relegation-threatened Wolves Saturday.
Schalke are 10th with little to play for in the Bundesliga but according to striker Jefferson Farfan are treating Saturday's match like a final.
Wolfsburg, who won the Bundesliga two seasons ago under Magath, are in 16th place, the relegation playoff place, with 28 points from the same number of games and only goal difference stands between them and St Pauli, who are in the drop zone.
Farfan was repeatedly the subject of speculation about a move away from Gelsenkirchen but instead outlasted the coach despite a turbulent relationship.
"The psychological pressure of Mr Magath has gone and now we are enjoying ourselves again at Schalke," the Peruvian told Sport Bild. "Until recently, a lot of players lived in fear.
"The new coach is trying to construct a relationship of faith with the players.
"The problems between Mr Magath and myself were undeniable. The time under Magath was a huge strain psychologically."
Schalke's team against Inter Milan included two players, Hans Sarpei and Alexander Baumjohann, who were banished to the reserves by Magath earlier in the season and both are expected to line up Saturday.
Magath, whose nickname Quaelix is a mixture of his first name and the German word for torture, had claimed the pair were not working hard enough in training.
"You never forget," Ghanaian Sarpei told reporters after the Inter match.
"Football is about ups and downs. I have played well under the new coach and we've won two games."
"I didn't have an easy time under Magath, but Rangnick has talked to me along and built me up again," said 24-year-old Baumjohann, who was a bright teenage prospect during Rangnick's first stint at the club five years ago but has failed to progress as expected.
Rangnick has brought both back into the team as well as striker Edu, who was rarely used by Magath and tended to play on the wing.
Tuesday, Rangnick used Edu as an out-and-out centre forward and the Brazilian repaid him with two goals as Schalke virtually guaranteed a place in the semi-finals.
Magath said there were no hard feelings on his part.
"Of course, I watched the game and I was very happy for the team," he told DPA news agency after watching the Inter game.
Borussia Dortmund, seven points clear at the top, visit seventh-placed Hamburg while second-placed Bayer Leverkusen host St Pauli Sunday.
Dortmund and Leverkusen, seven points clear of the rest of the field, are set to take the two German places in the Champions League next season.
Bayern Munich, whose third place would give them a place in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League next season if they finish their, visit Nuremberg.
Fourth-placed Hanover 96, one point behind the Bavarians, host fifth-placed Mainz 05, who are a further five points behind.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Alastair Himmer)