BERLIN — Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hat trick and set up another goal on his return from injury Sunday to lead Schalke to a 4-1 win against Hamburger SV that consolidated fourth place in the Bundesliga.
Huntelaar hadn’t played for six weeks since injuring his left knee in the Ruhr derby win over Borussia Dortmund.
"He was in top shape physically. That’s Klaas-Jan. We missed him for weeks and we’re happy he’s back," said Schalke coach Jens Keller.
Marcell Jansen opened the scoring for Hamburg in the fifth minute, heading into the far corner of the net after Heiko Westermann knocked the ball back in from a corner.
But Huntelaar started Schalke's resurgence four minutes later by setting up Michel Bastos to equalize with a strong shot inside the far post.
The Dutchman made it 2-1 in the 21st after combining brilliantly with Julian Draxler. Huntelaar lifted the ball over the Hamburg defence before running on to convert the 19-year-old's return from close range.
Hamburg's defending was lacklustre at best, and the visitors were lucky not to go further behind when the unmarked Raffael fired wide from a promising position in the 32nd.
Goalkeeper Rene Adler did well to deny Huntelaar after another well-worked move involving Bastos, before Westermann crashed his shot off the post at the other end.
Huntelaar grabbed his second in the 58th. Raffael easily beat two defenders before crossing for the Dutchman to score with a diving header.
Huntelaar completed his hat trick eight minutes later after Draxler drove at the Hamburg defence and crossed into the middle. Adler cleared the effort but only as far as Huntelaar, who gratefully headed the ball into the net.
It could have been worse for Hamburg with Adler denying Draxler with a great save and Westermann clearing the follow-up effort from the rebound off the line.
With three games remaining, Schalke is three points ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt in the last Champions League qualification place.
"We've taken a small step. We're able to settle a little but there are still three huge games remaining," Keller said.
Frankfurt could only draw 0-0 at local rival Mainz earlier Sunday.
The result means Mainz, which lost its three previous games, has not won in six and maintains only slim hopes of European qualification after slipping to 10th.
The home side should have scored when Nicolai Mueller's effort flew narrowly wide of the post in the 24th minute.
"Like in the last few weeks, the last pass was missing or the precision wasn't there," Mueller said.
Christian Wetklo did well to stop Alexander Meier's shot at the other end in the 42nd, in what was Frankfurt's best chance of the first half.
The visitors could have scored late on when Srdjan Lakic seized on Daniel Caligiuri's weak back-pass and set up Sebastian Rode, but Wetklo was equal to the midfielder's shot.
Frankfurt moved to fifth, well-placed for a European place despite winning only two of its last 11 games.
"We have three games left, two at home. We have to give it everything," Rode said.