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The final home game of 2021 this Saturday night (20.30 CET) is an early Christmas cracker! Sixth-placed FC Schalke 04 are the visitors, and the Boys in Brown go into the weekend's top game looking to make it eight wins out of eight at the Millerntor to put the icing on the cake of an outstanding home record this year. While supporters will still be allowed inside the ground under the updated pandemic measures, the two head coaches will both be missing.

Do you know what the figures 14, 1, 3 signify? It isn't the number of cards (yellow, second yellow/red, red) the team has amassed this season, that's for sure. Any idea? OK, all can be revealed. The Schultz XI have played 18 times at home in 2021 and their record is as follows: 14 wins (including two in the derby), 1 draw and 3 defeats. Goals for 44, goals against 16. What a fantastic haul! The Boys in Brown have taken 43 of a possible 54 points at the Millerntor this season. In comparison, just of the 13 home games contested in 2020 ended in victory.

The Schultz XI go into the 19th and final home game of 2021, the first in the Saturday night slot this season, with just one thing on their mind, and that is to secure their eighth home win in succession and 15th of the calendar year. Yet the Royal Blues pose tough opposition for the Boys in Brown, who as against Nürnberg will be managed by assistant coaches Loïc Favé and Fabian Hürzeler with Timo Schultz still self-isolating at home after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Things haven't gone entirely according to plan for Schalke in their first season in the second tier in more than 30 years, especially against teams from the top half of the table. Dimitrios Grammozis's side have secured just one victory in this category, a 1-0 win at Paderborn, and losing the rest against Darmstadt (2-4), HSV (1-3), Regensburg (1-4), Karlsruhe (1-2) and Heidenheim (0-1).

Nevertheless, the Royal Blues have beaten almost all of the teams in the bottom half of the table and thus sit comfortably within touching distance of the promotion berths in sixth place on 26 points. They come to the Millerntor on the back of four away wins this season and will naturally be hoping to increase their chances of an immediate return to the top flight with another three points. Head coach Dimitrios Grammozis will play no part on Saturday, however, after a PCR test conducted on Friday provided final confirmation that he had contracted Covid-19. The Royal Blues will also be without Marius Bülter, who scored twice against Sandhausen last time out, and prolific marksman Simon Terodde (12 goals this term), who is ruled out by a muscle problem. The loss of the league's record goalscorer does not mean they are not capable of banging in the goals, however, as evidenced by Sunday's 5-2 home win over Sandhausen.

Warning enough for the Boys in Brown, then, not to underestimate the visitors under any circumstances. Instead, they will be focusing on their own strengths and qualities, attributes they have displayed often enough at home in recent weeks and months. What better way to sign off from the Millerntor for the year with another decent performance and another three points?


Photos: Witters