One mistake too many. Why Timo Hildebrand is not the man for Schalke.

Yes, they say it’s easy to kick a man when he’s down but Timo Hildebrand, on many occasions this season, has lied on the floor and begged to be kicked. Yesterday’s mistake at Stamford Bridge was one of the many mistakes that have costed Schalke and another one in a long list of aspects that have or could have proven costly for die Königsblauen.

A goal is a goal

First of all, before anyone thinks otherwise, I think Hildebrand is a decent goalkeeper. Even yesterday, before his costly mistake, he made some good saves. However, if Schalke want to challenge at the top of the Bundesliga and be amongst the big boys, namely Bayern, Dortmund and Leverkusen, there has to be a level of consistency between the goalposts. Secondly, I have always been critic of Manuel Neuer’s performances, as he is a goalkeeper that’s also mistake prone, but he is lucky enough to have a super team in front of him that, more times than not, neutralise any potential mistake that he can make, as is the case the other week against Nürnberg.

Misjudging the situation yet again

Numbers don’t lie

Delving into facts, yesterday’s mistake was merely symbolic. Let’s face it, spectacular mistakes don’t cost two goals and it makes no difference whether it’s a goal kick charged down by the striker with the ball rebounding into the net or a piece of poor marshaling; the outcome is the same. In Hildebrand’s defence, Schalke’s defence isn’t one of the best but the former Stuttgart and Hoffenheim goalkeeper exacerbates that problem by not commanding it properly. Only 50% of the goals that Schalke have conceded this season in the Bundesliga have come from open play, which suggests that the other 50% have come in situations where Hildebrand has been in control of the situation (excepting the penalties, which incidentally he has managed to save none of the three). 25% of Schalke’s conceded goals have come from corners. This figure might be compared with the one of the goalkeepers for the top teams, such as Neuer (28%) and Weidenfeller (22%); however, the trick comes that both those goalkeepers have conceded two goals from corners whereas Hildebrand has conceded five. In comparison, other top goalkeepers such as Bernd Leno (73% open play; 0% corners), Marc-André ter Stegen (67% open play; 0% corners) and Diego Benaglio (62% open play; 7% corners) suggest that their command of the area in dead ball situations is far superior. To add to that, his positioning during these situations leaves a lot to be desired, especially apparent in the match against HSV, where he conceded two goals from headers.

Another stat which works against Hildebrand is his distribution. Whether it’s goal kicks, kicks from the hand or throw-outs, Hildebrand’s success rate is of 62%, a figure dwarved by that of Manuel Neuer (92%), ter Stegen (78%) and Leno (77%), even considerably lower than Benaglio (74%) and Weidenfeller (72%). This means that almost half of the times he has the ball, he gives it away, which is probably why Schalke have conceded 22 goals in the league this season (2.00 avg, 13th; the other goalkeepers mentioned are all in the top 6) and a further 9 in the Champions League (1.5 avg). With a defence as weak as Schalke’s, Hildebrand cannot afford to give so many free opportunities to the opposition to attack and this is hampering his team’s chances of winning a match greatly.


Jens Keller has already come out this season defending his #1 goalkeeper, stating that (up until yesterday, one must assume), none of the goals conceded could be blamed on Hildebrand. Of course, one might be inclined to disagree on that factor. Yes, Hildebrand does make some excellent saves but one of the aspects that people overlook when rating a goalkeeper is not how many saves he makes but how many mistakes he makes. There is no point in making two fantastic saves if you are just going to gift the opposition with an easy goal a few minutes later. A team who wants to challenge at the top of any league has to have a consistent goalkeeper. It’s much better if he’s called into action once or twice but keeps a clean sheet than if he makes two fantastic saves but two costly mistakes. As mentioned before, Schalke’s defence haven’t helped their goalkeeper in this aspect but neither has Hildebrand himself, which his poor decision-making, command of his area and positioning, the last two perhaps the most crucial attributes for a good goalkeeper to have. Hildebrand is a good goalkeeper, there is no doubt about it, but he’s not a great goalkeeper and definitely not the one that a team with the aspirations that Schalke have need.

Keller has Ralf Fährmann and Lars Unnerstall available to him. Fährmann perhaps did himself no favours in the only match he’s played this season (3-2 win at Braunschweig) but it would be hard to judge a man who hadn’t played Bundesliga football for exactly two years. Fährmann was re-signed from Eintracht Frankfurt by Schalke as a replacement for Neuer and came as one of the top goalkeeping prospects in Germany, but his development was hampered by a serious knee-ligament injury. Unnerstall on the other hand played 13 Bundesliga matches last season and, judging by his performances, there is no apparent reason as to why Hildebrand is picked ahead of him. In all honesty, though, neither of these three goalkeepers have the quality to take Schalke to a top 3 spot with their saves and numbers so perhaps it’s time that Horst Heldt and Jens Keller sat down and studied the possibility of bringing in a new goalkeeper. Until then, it’s hard to see Schalke challenging the top sides, both domestically and in Europe.

Stats provided by BS Sports Football, Squawka, Whoscored and Opta

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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