Schalke head coach Jens Keller remains wary of upcoming opponents Hamburg despite the latter’s disjointed pre-season.
Keller’s team will kick off their 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign at home against Hamburg on Sunday and the Schalke boss has urged his players to stay focused and ignore speculation about their opponents.
Hamburg lost four of their 10 pre-season matches, including three defeats in their last four, while they have been dogged by stories of financial difficulties, with the northern club keen to offload players to reduce their wage bill.
There have been rumours of a group of five Hamburg players being forced to train with the youth team in a bid to force them out of the club, while Son Heung-Min, who scored 12 Bundesliga goals last season, has been sold to Bayer Leverkusen, but Keller remains convinced they will be tough opponents for Schalke.
“I’ve always said that I’m not interested about how a team’s preparatory phase goes,” Keller said on Friday.
“We’ve experienced a pre-season phase that didn’t go well.
“It’s still possible to play a successful season after.
“So what happened during that phase is something that doesn’t interest us.
“We focus on the sports aspect of things. We know that (Hamburg) still have a good team and they might have gained momentum after their win in the (German) Cup (last Sunday).
“So we are focused and are expecting a strong team from Hamburg.”
Schalke finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season, which qualified them for the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League.
They have been drawn to play Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv in a two-legged tie this month for a spot in the Champions League group stages.
Although Schalke’s involvement in the Champions League last season seemed to take away from their league form, they recovered from sitting ninth in February to finish fourth.
Keller would still prefer to play in Europe’s premier continental competition, and have to deal with the extra games, than miss out and have an easier season in the Bundesliga.
“We fought hard to get the opportunity to try and get into the Champions League group phase and so for now, before the games, it’s not a burden for us,” Keller said.
“What will happen after, we will see but we are feeling optimistic, we want to go through and reach the group stages.”