Schalke’s Hinrunde ended with a 1-0 victory over rock-bottom Hoffenheim. The Royal Blues have not had a successful season so far, by any means. Despite die Knappen sitting pretty in a Europa league spot at number six in the Bundesliga table and accumulating 14 of a possible 18 points en route to topping their Europa League group, Schalke have stumbled through the season. They have managed only one win from any team in the top seven this season, downing Hertha Berlin through a last-gasp winner in the 92nd minute from Max Meyer despite Hertha being down to ten men from the 18th minute. The 2015-16 Hinrunde has not been a convincing one for Schalke who have scraped through multiple matches with a one-goal difference: 2-1 against Mainz, 1-0 against Stuttgart, 1-0 against Hamburg, 2-1 against Hertha, and 1-0 against Hoffenheim.
André Breitenreiter took over from a fairly unpopular Roberto Di Matteo on the 12th of June. He was handed a fairly easy and convenient group in the Europa league ,as Schalke did not have to cover a large distance for any of their matches unlike a number of teams. They did top group K, but failed to win the two matches against the only team that posed a threat to their chances: Sparta Prague. Breitenreiter’s summer signings have been far from successful. Franco Di Santo has been one of the worst Bundesliga summer transfers, scoring one measly goal in the Bundesliga against Stuttgart. He has scored five goals in the Europa League, but they have not come against quality opposition. Johannes Geis has failed to conquer the Bundesliga, managing only two assists in the Bundesliga. Schalke paid top dollar for Geis to pry him away from Mainz managing to win a bidding war with despised rivals Borussia Dortmund. So far, he has failed to justify his 12 million euro price tag, managing only an 81% pass accuracy in the Bundesliga. Moreover, 9.5 million euro signing Matija Nastastic suffered an achilles injury 15 minutes into the opening game of the season, which has kept him out for six months.
Not all is gloomy over at Gelsenkirchen however, as Joel Matip has been one of the best Bundesliga centre backs this Hinrunde. It might prove difficult for Schalke to stop top clubs prying him away from the Ruhr valley this winter and/or this summer.
Leroy Sane has transformed into one of the best wide players in the Bundesliga, notching four assists and four goals. The 19 year old has definitely been one of the best youngsters this season.
Leon Goretzka is another youngster who has had a fruitful season, so far. The twenty-year-old has already managed three assists.
There have been painful moments this season for the Königsblauen faithful, including an excruciating 3-2 loss against archrival Borussia Dortmund and a 2-0 loss at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB-Pokal. Nevertheless, there is a lot to look forward to if you’re a Schalke supporter. A juicy quarterfinal tie against Shakhtar Donetsk is by no means easy, but should certainly be manageable for Andre Breitenreiter’s side. The Europa League provides the best and only chance of silverware for Schalke. They must focus on the Europa League and progress as far as they can. However, it will only get harder from the round of 32. Nonetheless, Schalke do have an outside chance, as many teams do not play full-strength teams in the Europa League. Die Königsblauen should try to reach at least the quarter-final of the competition. A semifinal appearance would be mammoth for the die-hard fans. However, it is difficult to see Schalke getting any further.
As far as the Bundesliga is concerned, Schalke must aim to qualify for the Champions League. It is hard to see them getting near the top three; however, the 4th position is a possibility. It will be a tough battle between Schalke, Leverkusen, and Wolfsburg for that 4th position. A Europa league spot for a second year in a row would be frustrating for Schalke fans, but anything less would be catastrophic.
It will be interesting to see to see Schalke’s season unfold. They have already acquired Alessandro Schöpf from Nurnberg for six million euros to shore up their midfield. However, Schalke need to buy a proven goal scorer, as they have only scored 23 goals in 17 league matches. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is Schalke’s top scorer in the Bundesliga so far with only five goals to his name. A winter signing of a quality striker or helping Franco Di Santo re-find his form will go a long way in aiding their ailing front line. It will also help Schalke increase those one-goal differences in numerous victories.
A suspenseful Rückrunde awaits the royal blue faithful who will be hoping to hear the Champions League anthem next season at the Veltins Arena. It will be enthralling to see if Andre Breitenreiter will be able to fulfill their wishes.