Brazilian forward Ailton scored his sixth goal Sunday to lift Schalke past rival Borussia Dortmund 1-0 and even with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga standings.
Ailton slipped behind a defender in the 17th minute and sidefooted a through pass between goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller's legs to decide the derby between two teams that play just 40km apart.
Schalke is now being touted as Bayern's main challenger for the Bundesliga title.
"I don't mind the players talking about the title -- what do you think I want?" Rangnick said. "Stuttgart plays Bayern next week. Who's to say we won't be on top then?"
Schalke moved to 33 points in 16 rounds, the same as Bayern, although the Bavarians have a big edge in goal difference. Stuttgart is at 30 in the tight title race with next weekend the final round before the Bundesliga takes a two-month winter break.
Schalke, impressive before the break, was lucky to survive a shaky second half against crisis-ridden Dortmund.
Dortmund wasted a big chance in the 56th minute as Schalke's Marcelo Bordon headed clear following a bobble from goalkeeper Frank Rost, which Czech forward Jan Koller pounced upon. Another attempt cracked off the crossbar.
Dortmund, Germany's second biggest club and the 1997 Champions Cup winner, fell to 14th and in a relegation battle during a year when it is also struggling financially.
Schalke, which spent the most money on new players in the league, has gotten lucky on almost all its new acquisitions.
Ailton, last year's scoring leader with 28 goals at Werder Bremen, has been rounding into form, while Kaiserslautern castoff Lincoln has drawn praise as the team's playmaker. Two highly respected defenders, Bremen's Mladen Krstajic and Stuttgart's Marcelo Bordon, have also shored up the defense.
In Sunday's second match, Kaiserslautern beat Mainz 05 2-0 behind a score from Kamil Kosowski and an own-goal from Mathias Abel.
Nineteen-year-old Salomon Kalou scored with four minutes remaining to give Feyenoord Rotterdam a 2-1 victory over NEC Nijmegen, keeping it in fourth place in the Dutch first division, 11 points behind Eredivisie leader PSV Eindhoven.
PSV beat De Graafschap Doetinchem 4-0 on Saturday for its fifth straight victory and 12th straight shutout, improving to 41 points, five clear of AZ Alkmaar, who is in 2nd place. Alkmaar kept pace with PSV, beating ADO The Hague 2-0 with goals from Martijn Meerdink and substitute striker Ali Elkhatabi.
Heerenveen remained in fifth, five back of Feyenoord, despite a 2-2 draw in Tilburg. Defender Jos van Nieuwstadt equalized two minutes into injury time for Willem II after Heerenveen's Finnish fullback Hannu Haarala was ejected for a second yellow card in the 89th minute.
And Vitesse Arnhem climbed into sixth, a point behind Heerenveen, with a 2-1 victory over FC Utrecht on a last-minute free-kick winner by Theo Janssen.
Ajax remained in third, 10 points behind PSV, with Friday's 2-1 victory over RKC Waalwijk. In other games Saturday, Roda JC beat Groningen 5-1, RBC Roosendaal drew 0-0 with NAC Breda and FC Twente beat Den Bosch 4-0.
Real Madrid played without four regulars and settled for a 0-0 draw with Villarreal, leaving it nine points behind Spanish league leader FC Barcelona after 14 games.
Already without Zinedine Zidane who was injured and suspended Luis Figo, Madrid coach Mariano Garcia Remon rested Raul Gonzalez and Roberto Carlos heading into tomorrow's Champions League match against AS Roma. The result was a disappointing performance that left Madrid in second but dropped it further behind their front-running rival.