Week 28: Schalke’s slump rings out calls for change

SC Freiburg 0-0 FC Schalke

At the start of this match, there was reason to hope for a surge in Schalke’s play. Long injured but still valuably talented players had returned. Jefferson Farfan was starting in his first match in over a year along with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Max Meyer as the attacking midfielders. Sead Kolasinac, off for eight months, was put in at left fullback. More exciting, the club had Julian Draxler on the bench along with Sidney Sam. The Royal Blues could afford to bench Kevin Prince-Boateng, Tranquillo Barnetta and Roman Neustader. The only missing player was Leon Goretzka who was out with injury and replaced at defensive back by Dennis Aogo. Nevermind that — Schalke was at home and facing the relatively weak Freiburg. This could have been the game that brought a turnaround in form.

Instead this game gave verification to me saying after Week 26 that the club’s hopes for four in a row Championship League appearances are now gone. This match, like last week’s game against Augsburg, was lacklustre, with the team lacking fluid ball movement and attacking prowess, despite having over 70% possession for most of the game.

The one aspect that made this game slightly more interesting than Week 27 was when Freiburg’s Admir Mehmedi was brought down by Benedikt Höwedes in the penalty area, setting up a penalty kick by Julian Schuster. Schuster’s attempt went flying over the crossbar, saving the Royal Blue two points.

Yes, Freiburg’s goaltender, Roman Burki saved close-shave attempts by both Max Meyer and EMCM, but overall Schalke’s biggest issue was lack of offensive firepower. The squad has now gone three consecutice games without a goal. This has been the spine of the reason, but Schalke have only one win over eight matches. In fact, over the past eight games, the team has only picked up seven points and fourteen in the entire second half of the campaign Meanwhile, the clubs ahead of them such as Bayer Leverkusen, Gladbach and Wolfsburg have remained red-hot.

What now?

The calls for change that I saw from the media and the fans should continue but in a rational manner. For the moment, the players will be free of most of the attacks and the one receiving the most hate mail will definitely be Roberto Di Matteo. I am tentatively in support of this. Yes, the former Champions League winning manager has not lived up to minimal expectations of having the team qualify for the Champions League. However, I think before another nauseating nostalgic comment is made about Jens Keller, the Royal Blues need to look above to Horst Heldt and not forget how prominent injuries have been this year, along with unsatisfying play from veterans such as Boateng and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Heldt’s philosophy of the team relying upon its ‘farm system” for success has failed in a few regards. First of all, while the club is probably the greatest in the Bundesliga for producing players with tons of raw talent (do we still remember Leroy Sane?), the club has failed to develop these players and make them truly world-class. Instead players such as Meyer and Sane have been often neglected in the starting lineup for mediocre players. These mediocre players, along with disappointing transfer players such as Boateng and Huntelaar results in a team on the field that is disjointed and lacks a true leadership presence. Remember Raul?

Heldt’s stubborn philosophy of minimal cost for players and hiring of managers who do not embrace the young stallions of this team mean he lacks a long-term vision for this side. A satisfaction in unsatisfactory results. A need to just get by. If this team is to move ahead, a new mission needs to be put into place.

Three stars:

1. Marco Hoger- it says something that a player who is definitely not of Champions League quality was the best Royal Blue player of the match. My three stars are now more about who is missing, rather than who is mentioned. As for Hoger, he led the team in crosses, tackles and touches.

2. Max Meyer- not a great or even en a good game from a player who could still be much better than he is. At least he is starting. His four attempts on goal, including two that were close winners, are enough for him to earn a spot this week.

3. Jefferson Farfan-it was great to see him starting but this performance was far from being at the level Farfan was in the past. For the moment, we will wait. Still a few crosses, along with a number of passes, meant that when he was involved it was of benefit for the squad.

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