Schalke Analysis: at Week 30, Questions abound in a Sinking Ship

Week 30 Result: Schalke 0-2 Mainz (Stefan Bell ’28, ’31)

The state the Royal Blue are in now triggers endless questions and statements. Generally speaking, the questions come have rational origins, while the latter are the products of emotional outbursts from bitter and desperate fans.

I am full of both in this article.

I suggest that Schalke now has come to a cultural crossroad. The club must either evolve or stay stagnant.

Friday’s match against the upswinging-Mainz was the fourth time in five games that Schalke went scoreless. Furthermore, they are now six games winless. This, despite a start in which Schalke had a number of chances to take an early lead, but were once again plundered by inept finishing in attack. A second problem emerged from basic defensive errors on the two Mainz corners that led to a two-goal deficit at halftime. (If your only seemingly area of strength – i.e. di Matteo’s renowned defensive prowess – concedes goals on two back-to-back corners, then you know you are facing a crisis). A third problem saw Schalke flounder during the second half, as S04 was fortunate not to give up at least one more goal. Overall, you sensed that an element of giving up permeated the club on Friday.

This losing result occurred against a team that Schalke had been unbeaten against in seven straight matches (!). The signs were positive. Matija Nastasic and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were both back in the lineup. Players like Sead Kolasinac and Ralf Fahrmann had another game to settle in after recovering from injuries.

Contrary to expectations, the kind of performance Schalke gave us Royal Blue fans was the type that just leaves your mouth hanging open and speechless. The loss triggers questions, along with doubting statements outling changes that must be taken on by the club. (Horst Heldt, you can relax this week. Don’t worry, your name will come up again soon.) So let’s jump into the questions:

  1. Should Roberto Di Matteo be fired? Unfortunately, at the end of this year, yes. While I dismiss phony nostalgia for Jens Keller and welcome the defensive system Di Matteo has attempted to bring to the team, he has failed to do what he was hired to do. No Champions League. His grandest failure in strategy has been not exploiting the young talent this team has. This flaw stood out most noticeably in Week 30 with Max Meyer not receiving any playing time, Yes, Leroy Sane has shook up the Bundesliga somewhat, but he has done this in spite of, not because of, Di Matteo.
  2. Are the fans expecting too much? We have made the Champions League for two straight years, but somehow the seemingly eternal weaknesses of Schalke – namely, disjointment and inconsistency – have been forgotten and outshone by our odd flashy moments (such as Sane’s goal last week). S04 is made up of young, but not fully developed players and mainly aging/mediocre veterans. It lacks the gel of consistency that not only Bayern, but Leverkusen, Gladbach and Wolfsburg all have.
  3. Does Schalke need a major shakeup? In some ways, yes. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has proven he is not up to task as a striker anymore. If he cannot leave due to his contract signing, then he at least has to take a permanent place on the bench. Kevin-Prince Boateng is at this time a certain dismissal from the squad. Benedikt Höwedes has been reported to want to leave and it is in the club’s interests to make money off of his sale. Others such as Atsudo Uchida, Sydney Sam, Jan Kirchoff, Christian Fuchs and Chinedu Obasi either have to be let go or sold. Younger players such as Julian Draxler or Roman Neustader (who at one point in this match was only winning 27% of his tackles) may be too valued a commodity to sell, but the idea must be contemplated.
  4. Why hasn’t the return of injured players helped ? This question is hard to answer but more or less it is a combination of them being either inept or tentative. Some, like Draxler, have not played since Keller was manager. Di Matteo has failed to make them comfortable in his system. At this point, it’s probably too late for this to happen.
  5. Does S04 need a pathway of big spending for success? Simply put, yes. It is especially at this point that we reach the team’s cultural crossroads. The team’s past policy of limited money on transfers, concentrating on developing local talent, and creating smaller goals such as winning the Ruhr Derby are not satisfactory if Schalke are to develop as a squad. For better or for worse, the Bayern pathway of high spending fees is likely necessary for all Bundesliga clubs to keep pace. For some clubs, this path is not attainable and for others like Schalke it will mean leaving behind proud ownership histories of the past. Challenging to say the least. There at least needs to be a discussion on this subject.

3 Stars from Friday

  1. Leroy Sane. He made some defensive errors and was goalless, but he still had the most runs on the club(86) and tackles(22). At least Di Matteo realizes this young star is too bright for the bench.
  2. Matija Nastasic. The most tackles on the team(101) and the most passes(80). The defence did not break down because of him. If he is staying for 15/16, keep this player.
  3. Benedikt Höwedes. He covered the most defence (11.53km) and again, the defence did not break down because of him.

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