Change of tactics pays off: Schalke’s Week 24 victory

Schalke 3-1 Hoffenheim   (Fuchs 12, Meyer 41, 53; Volland 73)

Week 24’s game was an attempt from the Royal Blues to come back after the most humiliating defeat to Dortmund at the Revierderby the week before. I among many was convinced this club was not good enough for any Champions League position in the league. My mind still has not changed.

That being said, Roberto DI Matteo, who I will still stand by as not truly being at fault for the club’s shortcomings, made some tactical changes for this home match against Hoffenheim that paid off. First of all, with the lack of any offence and most of all midfield movement, the club changed from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2. This allowed players who have been absent in recent weeks, such as Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to be more present in the game, with EMCM in particular having an impressive game with a few shots and setting up both of Max Meyer’s goals. ALso, the changes in the lineup addressed one of Schalke’s dreadful mismanagement issues, which is giving little playing time to players who are young and full of potential and instead picking mediocre veterans who are simply not up to task. Last, by way of fortune, Schalke saw the return of one of its most talented players, out for seven months with injury, Leon Goretzka.

In the starting lineup this week were Kaan Ayhan, Max Meyer and Tranquillo Barnetta. Ayhan and Meyer in particular are examples of players not used enough to exploit their talented potential. Ayhan, the Turkish defender, has only been used in thirteen matches this year and needs to be taken into consideration more as either a fullback or defensive midfielder by DI Matteo. It may be a bit of a competition between Ayhan, Dennis Aogo (absent for this game due to back injury) and Joel Matip for who will be given playing time alongside Benedikt Höwedes  and Matija Nastasic. While Aogo and Matip are versatile and at times have been impressive, I would suggest that Ayhan has the most potential to turn out consistent and steady performances. With Sead Kolasinac still absent due to injury, he should have a spot in the starting lineup.

As for Meyer, the definite star of the game with his brace, it is a matter of being mistakenly neglected by Di Matteo. Meyer definitely has star potential and his exciting offensive play can only be effectively exploited if he is treated like a starter.

Most notable of any tactic changes, however, was the absence of Kevin-Prince Boateng. One point I failed to emphasize in Schalke’s Revierderby disaster, was the abysmal play of Boateng. According to Bild, Schalke want to unload Boateng during the summer. This is a wise choice, as last week’s performance from Boateng has been symbolic of his ’14/15 season. While he was a key figure in the resurgence of the squad in the second half of the 2013/14 season, he has, since the World Cup, brought out the negative aspects of his character. He has had a negative effect on the club by continually under performing and his work ethic coming into question, like it has in the past. I would suggest that Boateng does not fit in the plans for this team in the future.

Goretzka’s return is significant and hopefully the promise he showed last season will reemerge. If it does he should definitely take a starting role for this club and help the ailing midfield.

One final point is that I am tired of hearing this nostalgia coming back for Jens Keller. Keller was not worthy as a manager of a Champions League squad, in part, because he had no clear plan, unlike DI Matteo’s defensive tactics, and despite the Swiss’ shortcomings, his attributes are definitely a step ahead of Keller’s. Let the Jens Keller love go back inside the closet. Please. It certainly was not there when he was manager.

The match against Real Madrid on Tuesday is about maintaining dignity above all else. Defensive tactics will have to come back into play but the challenge will be for Di Matteo to advise more than just “park the bus.” Midfield possession and movement cannot be absent from this game, even if it involves taking risk. Players such as Meyer or even Sidney Sam should be present while playing others like Uchida or Boateng are only going to cause a lot of headaches for club supporters.

Three stars:

1. Max Meyer –  Obvious number one, with his brace, nevermind covering 11.95 km and completing 33 passes.

2. Christian Fuchs – Fuchs overall play resembles the club’s inconsistent culture but this was a game in which he was in the upswing, with the opening goal and four attempts on net, even though he was taken out in the first half.

3. EMCM – Choupo-Moting was able to show his offensive flare in this game, with quality runs, setting up goals, winning twenty-eight tackles(most on the club) and completing thirty-two passes. If it isn’t Huntelaar, it needs to be Choupo-Moting as the primary offensive force on this side.

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