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FC Schalke 04 bruised and battered but look forward with high hopes

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The 2012/13 season sure has not treated Schalke well. The team who was once hailed as a decent opposition to Bayern's bid for their first Bundesliga title in three years saw an inexplicable drop from second to seventh in the table. The Royal Blues were unfortunately not free of troubles during the winter break, as they find themselves bringing an injury-plagued squad into the second half of the season where they hope to pull themselves of the hole they are in.

Jermaine Jones, Christoph Moritz and Ibrahim Afellay sustained injuries during the team's training camp in Doha, Qatar, and are unlikely to take part in the first part of the season re-start. The training camp saw them win 3-2 over former favourite Raul's current club Al-Sadd in a friendly, but unfortunately slump to a shocking 5-0 defeat to fellow Bundesliga club Bayern Munich in their following friendly. Despite the team's efforts to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, their work seems to be to no avail as the year has already gotten off to a bad start.

However, two of the club's key figures have spoken of the optimism in the club despite a dreadful season so far. Head coach Jens Keller, who replaced Huub Stevens after the latter was dismissed for Schalke's run of bad results, has summed up the club's experience in Doha with a hint of confidence.

"We can be very satisfied with what we have achieved. The players have worked very well and we've accomplished a lot of the things we set out to do," Keller revealed to Schalke's official website. "We've worked hard and well here in Doha. The players are willing and they showed what they're capable of early on in the season. The mood in the camp is good and everyone is pulling together."

"We put a lot of emphasis on organisation in the individual parts of the team and especially in defence. We have to be more compact throughout and stop giving our opponents too much space. We've also created more options for our attacking game and worked hard on the physical side of things."

Regarding the heavy defeat to Bayern, Keller had to say, "We can't be satisfied with the result at all. Having said that, we did try a few things out and we weren't at full strength." However, from the shortcomings, Keller found himself fortunate enough to have learned a few lessons. "I could have played to get a result but I wouldn't have discovered as much if I had. We will learn our lessons from the game and work on our shortcomings."

Keller has also revealed the possibility that Schalke's youngsters Dennis Erdmann, Kaan Ayhan and Max Meyer could play a part in rescuing Schalke's dismal Bundesliga campaign. "They've shown great commitment and drawn attention to themselves. I have to pay them a compliment. Overall, we are glad to have them with us."

Meanwhile, Schalke star Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is similarly positive about his team's future. The 29-year-old was last season's top scorer in the Bundesliga, and recently signed a contract extension to keep him at the club until 2015. "We just need that one success to regain our confidence. We have a lot of quality in the team and will do our best to get back on track. We have a lot of good players and we can compensate for the injuries."

The Dutchman also looked brightly at the Gelsenkirchen outfit's Champions League run, saying, "We've experienced great games in the Champions League's group phase and want a repeat of this next year. We want to qualify for the Champions League, and the deficit to the top isn't that large." Schalke currently sit one point off the Europa League positions, five points off the Champions League play-off position and 17 points off leaders Bayern Munich, with 17 games left to play this season.

The Bundesliga winter break ends on January 18, and the Royal Blues will kick off the re-start with the first Bundesliga game of the half-season against 11th-placed Hannover 96 on that night.

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Football Correspondent and Columnist on the Bundesliga, English Premier League and Champions League.