The damage had, of course, been done at the Giuseppe Meazza, but Schalke were also very good in the return leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Inter. Everyone expected Inter to come flying out and Schalke set up as if expecting that, but the onslaught never came and the Germans took a while to realise what was happening. They adjusted slowly and took the lead through Raúl late in the first half, again exposing the statuesque Inter defence.
Revitalised, Schalke were much better after the break despite conceding to Thiago Motta's scrambled effort and Höwedes had the ball in the net from a corner, but had half his left foot beyond the last defender and was flagged offside. Late in the game came the moment. Höwedes started the move by putting Raúl in space and immediately signalled where he wanted the ball, in between the full-back and centre-half. The ball was perfect, chipped into the space, and Höwedes continued his run and lashed in a thunderous shot low to Julio César's left.
It was a cracking goal all round. The vision of Höwedes, the through-ball from Raúl and the emphatic finish were all pretty much perfect, but it's what it represents that is more important. The tie was over at that stage - Inter weren't about to get five in ten minutes - and any other side, certainly the Schalke of the early part of the season, would have been content to knock it about at the back and play out time. Moreover, under Felix Magath, the likelihood is that Höwedes would never have thought about that gallop forwards. Had it not worked out, perhaps even if it had, the likely first comment from his manager would have been a reading of the riot act. The fear of the bollocking would have seen Höwedes give the ball to Raúl and immediately return to his station in the back four. Ralf Rangnick is a different type of manager who places a great deal of trust in his players to make the right decisions. With this backing from the bench, Höwedes saw the opportunity to create something and went for it. That it worked so spectacularly is almost a side issue.
The Bundesliga table may lull Manchester United fans into a sense that they're halfway there already. This new Schalke who beat Inter home and away without one of their main strikers are a different beast to the one that began the season with three straight defeats. Benedikt Höwedes slammed that point home emphatically at the Veltins Arena and S04 are live contenders in the semi-finals.