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Schalke must hold on to their best players

Huntelaar and Holtby undecided

icon playermove23 December ~ Schalke 04 concluded 2012 on a bitter note last Tuesday evening when they lost 2-1 to the Bundesliga’s perennial underdogs FSV Mainz in the DFB Pokal. This was the first competition the club have been eliminated from this season, yet it represented another dip in form that has turned from bad to worse over the past few months. The poor result was the side’s first match under the guidance of caretaker Jens Keller, the Under-17s coach who was promoted to the first-team after the sacking of Huub Stevens a week ago.

Defender Christoph Metzelder says that the club's recent slump has been due to "mistakes ruthlessly punished". You’d forgive him for thinking his club have been under a curse of some sort judging by the manner in which their season has collapsed.

They began in fine form, going top of the Bundesliga with an impressive victory over champions Borussia Dortmund as well as taking first place in their Champions League group ahead of Arsenal. Yet ten days after that 2-0 victory at the Emirates the team lost 3-2 at relegation candidates Hoffenheim. They have since won only twice in 11 games and are now seventh, 17 points from leaders Bayern Munich and 13 from Hoffenheim in 16th.

However, poor form and fan frustration are not the biggest causes for concern at the club. That has to do with the future of two of their best players. Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lewis Holbty; a striker who’s goalscoring record for Schalke matches almost any in Europe and a bright young midfielder with admirers across the continent. The pair have yet to sign contract extensions and could leave in the January transfer window for a reduced fee or in the summer for nothing at all.

If the papers are to be believed the duo had delayed negotiations due to a fallout with the departing Stevens, Huntelaar having been especially vocal regarding the club's ability to compete for trophies. Now that the coach has left, contracts are supposedly on their way to being signed. But the saga has left fans with a sour taste and could well set the tone for the remainder of the season. Tying Huntelaar and Holtby down to extended contracts may well be a strong step in the right direction but Schalke are nowhere near out of the woods yet. Stefan Bienkowski

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