Looking to lay foundations for progress

Off the back of successive wins in the DFB Cup and the Bundesliga, Schalke 04 headed to Greece for the first leg of their UEFA Europa League last 32 tie against PAOK Thessaloniki on Wednesday morning high in confidence. After a routine flight, the boys touched down in Greece’s second biggest city just after 3pm.

22 players have made the journey to Saloniki, including Cameroon midfielder Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who had to pass a late fitness test following an adductor problem. Nabil Bentaleb was not on board, and will miss the game after picking up a stomach bug.

“We’re expecting an electric atmosphere. We will have to make our presence known,” said Christian Heidel. The Royal Blues will be backed by about 1,400 travelling fans in the Toumba Stadium. “February has gone very well for us so far, we responded really well to the Frankfurt loss and we have been improving ever since,” added the sporting director.

We have to remain calm and stick to our game plan.

Matija Nastasic

The progress was clear for all to see in the 2-0 home win over Hertha BSC, not just Heidel: “We were a well-drilled unit against Hertha, we kept the ball moving for 90 minutes and put in performance we could be very pleased with. Now we are taking that positive feeling to Greece and we want to lay the foundations for the home leg and reach the last 16.”

“The results are good, the performances are good, long may that continue,” said Benjamin Stambouli, “Our goal to get something from the game in Thessaloniki and I like our chances between because we have played well in the Europa League to this point. We are intent on building on the performances from the group stage.”

Matija Nastasic is expecting a highly-charged atmosphere in the ground. “But we cannot let that affect us. We have to remain calm and stick to our game plan. If we can do that, then I am sure we’ll give ourselves a good chance of progressing after the return leg in the VELTINS-Arena.”

*Daniel Caligiuri will wear number 2 as Sidney Sam has already worn the number 18 shirt in this season’s competition and two players cannot use the same squad number according to UEFA regulations.