Soccer-Schalke start league comeback with Huntelaar aura


By Karolos Grohmann

BERLIN, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The return of Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar after a five-month injury absence has filled Champions League club Schalke 04 with confidence they can turn their domestic season around.

The forward made his first appearance last week since August, scoring in their 3-0 win at Hamburg SV and sending Schalke back up to fifth place as they challenge for yet another Champions League spot next season.

"It is this aura that we have been lacking in the past months," said coach Jens Keller. "Klaas is worth his weight in gold in such form. His presence on the pitch alone is important for us."

Keller could not have asked for better timing in his return with Schalke up against VfL Wolfsburg, a point behind in sixth place, on Saturday with both teams eyeing Champions League spots next season.

"There are a lot of teams battling for Champions League spots so this will remain a tight race for a long time," said Schalke sports director Horst Heldt.

"We now have two home games and one against a direct competitor (VfL Wolfsburg) and we need to pick up where we left off against Hamburg."

With appearances such as the one against Hamburg, Schalke are also eager to quickly extend Huntelaar's deal past 2015.

"There is a lot we want to achieve together with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. He is extremely important for us," Heldt told reporters. "We know his contract runs out in 2015 and we will soon start talks with him and his agents."

The Ruhr Valley club, who face Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 next month, will also have captain Benedikt Hoewedes back in the squad after he missed last week's Bundesliga resumption following the winter break with a stomach virus.

Wolfsburg will be a tough opponent, having boosted their frontline with Belgian forward Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea but are going to Schalke on the back of a surprise defeat to Hanover 96 last week.

"We have to play more clever as a team although you could already see that there were good things happening on the pitch," Wolfsburg sports director said of his team's Bundesliga restart.

League leaders Bayern Munich, 13 points ahead after their 2-1 midweek win over VfB Stuttgart in a postponed game, host lowly Eintracht Frankfurt and hope to add to their unbeaten run of 43 straight league games in a title campaign that has essentially become a one-horse race.

Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen entertain Stuttgart while Borussia Dortmund, four points back in third, travel to bottom-placed Eintracht Braunschweig. (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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