BERLIN - Schalke entered the Bundesliga's winter break on the verge of crisis following a 3-1 defeat at home to Freiburg on Saturday.
The Gelsenkirchen-based club's sixth game in succession without a win increases the pressure on Dutch coach Huub Stevens, who has seen his side tumble from second place to seventh within a month.
"It's not a good situation. Our expectations are coming short," said Schalke general manager Horst Heldt, who was asked if Stevens would be in charge for Tuesday's German Cup tie against Mainz.
"Just after the loss I need to get my thoughts together," Heldt added. "I have to let it sink in first. We'll have answers when there are answers."
Schalke even opened the scoring, following a long ball over the Freiburg defence in the 20th minute, when Lewis Holtby crossed for Jefferson Farfan.
But Jan Rosenthal equalized six minutes later by shooting through two Schalke defenders into the far corner.
Then Joel Matip completely miscued an attempted clearance and Jonathan Schmid raced onto the ball before coolly slotting past Timo Hildebrand in the 32nd.
Another defensive mistake led to Freiburg's third in the 61st, when Christoph Metzelder's pass was intercepted and quickly played to Rosenthal, who struck crisply first time to the far corner.
Schalke tried but struggled to break down the resolute Freiburg defence.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar illustrated the home side's frustration by picking up a needless yellow card for a petulant shove on Julian Schuster.
Rosenthal was sent off with 10 minutes remaining for two yellow cards in quick succession, and Huntelaar followed him off a minute later after earning another.
"I have a contract until the end of the season," Stevens said. "I've fulfilled the first year and I aim to fulfil the second one. If I feel I'm no longer wanted by the players then that's something else, but I don't feel that."
Earlier, league top-scorer Stefan Kiessling scored two goals and set up another as Bayer Leverkusen beat Hamburger SV 3-0 to close the gap on leader Bayern Munich to nine points.
"To reach second place with so many good games shows how strong this team is, also mentally," Kiessling said. "But first it's the winter break and then there are still 17 hard games waiting for us."
Eintracht Frankfurt won 2-0 at Wolfsburg, Mainz came from behind to beat Stuttgart 3-1, bottom sides Greuther Fuerth and Augsburg drew 1-1, and Fortuna Duesseldorf beat visiting Hannover 2-1, with Denmark international Ken Ilso scoring the winner from a free kick with seven minutes remaining.
Kiessling took advantage of poor defending to open the scoring from close range in the 26th minute, and set up Andre Schuerrle to score in off the post 10 minutes later.
Kiessling scored his 12th goal of the season in the 66th, when he held off a weak challenge from Heiko Westermann to reach Bernd Leno's long kick out and lift it over the unfortunate Rene Adler.
"After such a game you have to ask each and every one of us whether he's done all he can for success," said Adler, who was making his first return to the club where he played for 12 seasons. "Because what we've played here, that shouldn't happen. Sure, Leverkusen is a strong team, but we've shown in many games that we can do much better."
Alexander Meier headed Frankfurt into a 12th-minute lead in Wolfsburg when he connected with Pirmin Schwegler's free kick at the far post.
Wolfsburg midfielder Josue earned a direct red four minutes later, and from the resulting free kick it got worse for the home side when Takashi Inui made it 2-0.
"I would have preferred it if my team thought about defence first," Wolfsburg interim coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner said. "You have to defend better than that against such a strong team."
Frankfurt moved ahead of Borussia Dortmund, 12 points behind Bayern, though the defending champion can reclaim third place on goal difference with a win at Hoffenheim on Sunday.
In Mainz, Stuttgart striker Martin Harnik headed home in the 48th, but Nicolai Mueller equalized with a looping shot seven minutes later.
Mueller produced a fantastic chip over Sven Ulreich before heading the ball to the empty net in the 71st, and Elkin Soto decided the matter with an unstoppable shot to the top corner in injury time.
Neither Fuerth nor Augsburg will be happy after their scrappy draw, in which Sascha Moelders scored for Augsburg in the ninth, and Lasse Sobiech equalized an hour later. Fuerth defender Mergim Mavraj was sent off in the 76th, and Augsburg's Giovanni Sio followed in the 85th. Both sides are 10 points adrift of safety.
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