Raul rekindles Schalke fire
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany ● His side may have bowed out of the Europa League in midweek but Spanish veteran striker Raul encouraged Schalke’s ambitions of reaching next season’s Champions League with a brace in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Hanover.
Raul, a three-times European Cup winner with Real Madrid, struck early in both halves to see off Hanover – whose hopes of an improbable fifth-place finish suffered a setback.
Schalke, whose other goal came from Dutchman Jan-Klaas Huntelaar just after the hour mark, closed the gap on second-placed Bayern Muinich to six points with their win as the Ruhr-based side – neighburs of champions and leaders Dortmund – bounced back from their midweek Europa League exit to Athletic Bilbao.
Raul scored in both legs of the tie against the Basque outfit but could not prevent a 6-4 aggregate loss.
Sunday’s strikes, however, opened up a five-point lead over Borussia Monechengladbach, who stayed fourth after they could only draw at home to relegation-haunted Hertha Berlin.
Raul has now netted 14 league goals – though Huntelaar is the club’s top scorer with 24, trailing the Bundesliga’s top marksman Mario Gomez of Bayern, who has one more to his credit.
In Sunday’s late game, 1983 European champions Hamburg, just a point clear of the drop zone, are looking to ease their relegation fears by beating midtable Bayer Leverkusen.
On Saturday, Bayern thanked a Gomez brace – his opener after just 24 seconds – as they stayed in the title hunt with a 2-1 win over Augsburg, but the Bavarians still trail Dortmund by three points after the table-toppers won 3-1 at Wolfsburg.
The victories spiced matters up with the top two set to clash on Wednesday in Dortmund.
Bayern, who served up their ninth straight win, are the record title winners with 22 crowns but reigning champions Dortmund are in pole position for an eighth title with 66 points from 29 games with just five rounds of action remaining.
Dortmund won with goals from two goals from Robert Lewandowski and another from Ilkay Gundogan with Mario Mandzukic getting a consoltation for shock 2009 champions Wolfsburg.
Bayern’s veteran coach Jupp Heynckes and Dortmund counterpart Juergen Klopp immediately turned their sights to Wednesday’s summit meeting.
“We can now travel to Dortmund feeling optimistic and motivated, even if that game itself won’t decide the title race,” said Heynckes.
Klopp added: “We’re really looking forward to the Bayern game – we want to offer a real spectacle for 80,000 fans, but (the game) won’t decide anything.”
Elsewhere, Stuttgart were among the goals again as they hammered Mainz 4-1 to stay fifth.
Kaiserslautern’s 2-1 loss to Hoffenheim means they are all but down as the tailenders, champions in 1991 and 1998, they are ten points from safety.