Well it wasn’t what Schalke supporters expected. After two disappointing matches to start the Bundesliga season Schalke supporters looked for some much needed improvement in their team’s Champions League qualifier against Greek side PAOK. As Schalke’s form currently would have it though, they continued their slump with a 1-1 draw. To add to the frustration surrounding the club, there was a series of clashes between supporters and riot police towards the end of the match. Schalke are currently making headlines in the German press for all the wrong reasons.
Jens Keller’s team were already without first choice striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who was unavailable following an injury at the weekend so Adam Szalai replaced him. Keller also replaced Santana and Clemens with Matip and 17-year-old Max Meyer who had just five minutes worth of European experience going into this game. It was an unexpected move by Keller, especially considering what was at stake and the pressure on the club to perform.
Good start followed up by waning performance
To Keller’s relief though, Schalke started reasonably well. After an early period in which each team settled into the game Schalke took control and put their opponents under pressure. Draxler and Farfan attacked quick down the wings and found a good outlet on their right side. PAOK’s Stoch often failed to track back and allowed both Uchida and Farfan to have a go at the isolated Limo. With Farfan being their most dangerous attacker it is no surprised that he got Schalke’s goal. Szalai did well to poke the ball through to an open Farfan who placed the ball into the far corner with deadly precision.
Schalke really should have capitalized on their momentum and gotten a second but PAOK started organizing more efficiently and defended very well for the remainder of the first half and into the second. Huub Stevens did what his sides have often done so well in the past and that’s putting players behind the ball and defending with two banks of four. With only Draxler and Farfan really offering penetrating runs Schalke struggled to combine. They sometimes got past their first or second marker but rarely past the third or fourth.
Out of ideas, out of time
Over the weekend Schalke’s transition game cost them dearly against Wolfsburg. Against PAOK, the same problem also prevented them from getting a first leg advantage. In the second half, all the impetus, incisiveness and energy of the first dissipated into repetitive and clumsy patterns. Their build up and transitions out of their own half were particularly poor. Uchida and Fuchs gave the ball away often when carrying it into PAOK’s half and neither Höger or Jones reinforced the team enough defensively to compensate.
PAOK meanwhile gained momentum from Schalke’s sloppy play and pulled a goal back after no Schalke player stepped up to Stoch’s shot from outside the box. It was careless defensive play but somewhat predictable given the flow of the game. Schalke supporters in the north stand became agitated to the point where police had to intervene. Whatever the origins of the disruption, the levels of agitation mirrored the continued disappointment on the field. The club immediately condemned the excessive force by the police but they will still have to answer for their poor performances and results. More on what happened here.
Julian Draxler’s words summed it up well after the game, “We had a very good performance in the first half but for whatever reason, we stopped playing around the 60th minute.”
And that has been the case for so long now with Schalke. Very good starts, good finishes to a game, moments of great individual skill but very rarely ever a combination of all throughout 90 minutes. Whether it was the security of their lead that caused a collective sense of complacency or their inability to respond appropriately to upped pressure by PAOK, Schalke again found itself throwing away a result they should have by all means locked up.
Now they travel to Greece for the all important second leg, and despite playing in an empty stadium, will face an inordinate amount of pressure to qualify. So often their biggest enemy has been their own pattern of failing to deal with the pressure put on them, and with potentially 20m Euros worth of Champions League money on the line if they qualify, that pattern will be put to the test once again.
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