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Schalke seek to capitalise on lacklustre Leverkusen’s European exit

Schalke will host fellow top four hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen at the Veltins-Arena hoping to capitalise on their opponents’ recent European heartbreak, as the Bundesliga fight for a Champions League place intensifies.

Roberto Di Matteo’s Royal Blues, 2/1 with Coral to secure victory, currently sit one place and three points adrift of fourth-placed Bayer in the German top-flight table, with a win set to take them level with Leverkusen.

Roger Schmidt’s men, 13/10 to triumph, were recently knocked out of this year’s Champions League at the last 16 stage, after a shockingly poor penalty shoot-out performance against Spanish La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.

Bundesliga boys Bayer uncharacteristically bowed out after losing 3-2 in the shoot-out, after a 1-0 defeat had levelled the tie on aggregate. Hakan Calhanoglu and Omer Toprak both missed from the spot before striker Stefan Kiessling sent his attempt high into the stands, sealing the Germans’ elimination.

Leverkusen will look to bounce back immediately and take a huge step closer to cementing their place among Europe’s elite again next season. Despite their recent exit from continental competition, they have been strong domestically, securing three consecutive victories.

Meanwhile, Schalke have endured an inconsistent run of form in the Bundesliga, securing only a single win in their previous five league outings. With close top-four rivals Augsburg facing relegation-threatened Freiburg, a win is essential to Di Matteo’s hopes of securing further Champions League success.

The hosts, who also suffered a loss to Spanish opposition from Madrid (holders Real) in their Champions League last 16 encounter, are 19/4 to win and both teams to score, after a 3-1 victory in their last home league fixture.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was sublime against his former employers Los Blancos in that dramatic Bernabeu defeat, and the deadly Dutchman will be hoping to add to his impressive tally of 15 goals so far.

Ex-Ajax and AC Milan poacher Humtelaar netted the winner in this fixture last season, and is available at 9/2 to open proceedings this time out, following his recent delightful double in the Spanish capital.

Turkey international attacker Calhanoglu missed a fatal spot-kick against Atletico, but was the hero in Leverkusen’s win over the Gelsenkirchen club last October, striking a crucial second-half winner. Back the former Hamburg star at 21/10 to net anytime in his latest outing and add to his eight goals this term.

Visitors Bayer will be hoping to banish any lasting memories of that disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of last year’s finalists Atleti, with a win over Schalke a potentially massive step towards sealing qualification for the competition next year.