SCHALKE 2 (Matip 58, Barnetta 85)
STOKE CITY 1 (Bojan 55)
STOKE CITY’S pre-season tour of southern Germany drew to its conclusion on Tuesday evening as the Potters succumbed to a narrow 2-1 defeat against Champions League hopefuls Schalke in Kufstein, Austria.
Bojan’s first goal for the Club had given Mark Hughes’ side the lead after Marko Arnautovic had earlier been denied from the penalty spot by ‘keeper Ralf Fahrmann, but second half goals from Joel Matip and Tranquillo Barnetta recorded victory for the Bundesliga side.
Asmir Begovic was named in the side for the first time following his exploits at this summer’s World Cup Finals, and he continued from exactly where he left off in South America, producing another sublime performance against the Germans.
His impressive showing throughout his 45 minute run out played a determining factor in the Potters going into the half-time interval on level terms.
Ironically, it was Schalke’s stopper Ralf Fahrmann who proved to be the hero of the half however, after making a crucial save to deny Marko Arnautovic from the penalty spot after he was upended by Felipe Santana inside the box shortly before the interval.
That opportunity, together with two earlier half chances for Mame Diouf and Stephen Ireland, was as close as the Potters came to forging an initial breakthrough in a half that was narrowly edged by the Champions League side.
Schalke, who ended the 2013/14 campaign with an impressive third place finish in the German top-flight, were left wondering how they hadn’t managed to have hit the back of the net on at least one occasion prior to the break.
Sidney Sam who had arrived in Gelsenkirchen from Bayern Leverkusen during the summer transfer window, will have felt aggrieved not to have added to his impressive pre-season tally, having created numerous opportunities for himself.
The livewire frontman was denied by the brilliant Begovic on three occasions, whilst with the one attempt he did manage to evade the reach of the Bosnian, the 26-year-old’s curling effort flew inches wide of the far post.
Swiss international Barnetta was next to try his luck against Begovic, but similarly to Sam, he wasn’t able to get the better of the City number one as he again produced a moment of brilliance to palm his strike over.
Stoke weren’t allowing the German’s to have it all their own way, and they continued to display the fluid and creative brand of football that has now become synonymous with the team under Welsh boss, Hughes.
Undoubtedly the most impressive passage of play during the first half came via the Potters, with Bojan displaying his talents to nutmeg a Schalke midfielder before threading the ball out wide to Diouf, who in-turn hit the ball across the danger zone, but agonisingly inches away from the oncoming Ireland.
Stoke were always a threat to the Schalke rear-guard, with the pace and explosiveness of Arnautovic, Bojan and Ireland, and the trio very nearly linked up to devastating affect moments before the break.
Seconds later though, a neat ball through from Bojan found Arnautovic inside the penalty area, he twisted and turned before being clumsily brought down by defender Felipe Santana, leaving the referee with no option but to award the spot-kick.
Austrian ace Arnautovic stepped up confidently and fired a precise effort towards the bottom corner of the net, yet he wasn’t able to turn and celebrate as the ‘keeper pulled off a quite stupendous save to keep the scoreline level.
The introduction of Jack Butland for Begovic was the only change during the interval as Hughes opted to give extended run outs to a number of his outfield players, including the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Arnautovic and Erik Pieters, who all came through 90 minutes.
Within ten minutes of the restart the Potters were in front.
Bojan displayed superb composure 18-yards out to turn and deliver a stunning effort into the top corner of the net, way beyond the reach of the outstretched replacement stopper, Fabian Giefer.
The Potters’ celebrations were short-lived however, as within three minutes the Bundesliga outfit had drawn themselves level courtesy of a bullet header from Cameroonian Matip, who leaped highest to head home a dangerous corner.
That goal didn’t derail Hughes’ side though, and they continued to build passages of play calmly and patiently, with Ireland being the architect in almost every surge into the Schalke half.
In fact, it was he who very nearly teed up substitute Charlie Adam at the far post with a delicious ball across goal midway through the second period, before again going close to teeing up the Scotsman, when perhaps he would have been forgiven for gunning for glory himself.
A plethora of substitutions disrupted the fluidity of the game and it came as no surprise to see a third goal of the evening scored during the latter stages of the encounter, at the point that both teams were beginning to look slightly jaded.
Unfortunately for the Potters it was Schalke who grabbed the decisive goal through Barnetta, who cleverly beat Jack Butland from 12-yards after being freed through on goal five minutes from the full-time whistle.
To compound the Potters misery, Barnetta’s effort came just moments after Brazilian born defender Dionatan Teixeira had thought he had won the game for his side after heading home his first effort for the Club, only for the linesman to incorrectly flag for offside.
STOKE CITY: Begovic (Butland 46); Wilson (Muniesa 27), Shawcross (c), Huth (Teixeira 66), Pieters; Nzonzi, Whelan (Palacios), Ireland; Diouf (Adam 59), Bojan (Crouch 64), Arnautovic. Subs (not used): Shea, Ness, Shotton.