Schalke: Five Players Who Need to Step Up for 2016/17 Season

For the second year in a row, FC Schalke 04 are not in the UEFA Champions League. It’s financially and sentimentally not good for any club atmosphere, but with a new manager and a new sporting director, it looks like this pattern of shortcomings might come to a halt.

One of the most incredible remarks about Schalke’s upcoming season came from their former mortal enemy’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, a man who has never taken to compliment his rival tem. In a recent interview, he claimed that under new Sporting Director Christian Heidel, he fears that Schalke’s future is “frighteningly bright and can turn things around very quickly.”

Now, keep in mind Heidel was his former boss, so he might just be making amends with an old friend.

But take a look at the team, and he’s already made some big signings and good business. Assuming Leroy Sane is offloaded this summer, Schalke might be making up to 45 million euros off a 20-year-old player who’s still incredibly raw. He’s signed Naldo, one of Europe’s best defenders two seasons ago, on a free transfer and managed to land Breel Embolo, a player who was close to joining the likes of Manchester United (but who isn’t linked with them these days, anyways?), on a record transfer fee of around 30 million euros.

This kind of business would more than likely not have happened under former Sporting Director Horst Heldt. Heidel brings with him an atmosphere of calm and assuredness. For this upcoming season, the Schalke players need to reflect this quiet confidence.

These five players are players that either need to prove themselves, step up and lead or are going to have a big year ahead of them in general.

1) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

There may be never be a player at Schalke like him again. For six years, the Dutchman has established himself as one of Germany’s most deadly strikers and as the Royal Blues’ second-greatest goal scorer. However, this season calls for a striker who does more than score goals; he must lead a team of young, promising players.

It will more than likely be Huntelaar’s last season in Gelsenkirchen, and while he will be given an uproarious applause for how much he has given to the club, if he truly wants to cement himself as a legend, he has to end on a high.

A reasonable expectation for Huntelaar’s output this season in all competitions should be 20 goals (assuming he plays in nearly every game), but if he manages more, it will be a season to remember for the forward.

2) Max Meyer

At one point, journalists across Europe were labeling Meyer as the young German Messi. Of course such comparisons are outrageous and unfair to a player so raw and inexperienced, but Meyer perhaps hasn’t flourished as much as he was expected to by now.

His output last season was 6 goals and 8 assists in 39 matches, a record that’s not that bad but needs to improve under Heidel. He is still 20 years old, so he has years to learn his position more (should new Coach Marcus Weinzierl choose to place him behind the striker and not to the sides like Breitenreiter did often).

A target for Meyer this season? Be involved in 15-20 goals by either scoring or assisting them.

3) Matija Nastasic

With Schalke-raised Joel Matip already enjoying life in Liverpool, Schalke’s mainstay central defenders remain as Benedikt Howedes, Naldo and Nastasic.

So why is Nastasic picked instead of perhaps Naldo? The answer is all in the difference in experience.

Naldo has proven himself in big stages across Germany. The 23 year-old Nastasic, on the other hand, has missed a cumulative two entire seasons injured since his career began in Manchester City and now Schalke.  Still, he has featured in a total of 100 competitive matches with Schalke, Citeh and Fiorentina senior squads.

Nastasic’s injury-dilemma is something the Royal Blues knew about when buying him, and his first half-season with them, he was a competent defender. In the first few weeks of last season, he was brilliant: even scoring his first goal for Schalke in a 5-0 throwdown against MSV Duisburg. He was then injured within the first 20 minutes of the first game of the season, and effectively, hasn’t been seen in a competitive match since then.

This season, should he stay fit, needs to prove himself that he should start amidst his CB competition. With Schalke’s U19 captain, Thilo Kehrer, now also possibly looking at receiving playing time this upcoming season, getting playing time in the back will require him to impress in every chance Wiernzel gives him.

A solid expectation is for Nastasic to stay match-fit and play in at least 30 matches.

4) Sidney Sam

There may not be a more drastic drop in performance in a Bundesliga player in the last 10 years than that of the former Leverkusen man, Sidney Sam.

In his 124 performances for them, he managed to either score or assist 62 goals: a very solid output for a young winger. He was even capped for the German National Team. However, in the past two years, his numbers are just unbelievable (in all the wrong ways).

24 appearances, 1 assist. In two years

A mixture of medical and disciplinary issues have resulted in Sam nearly losing his place at Schalke.  He failed a medical last summer for a move out.

However, this summer, Sam has been one of the, if not the most, influential players in the pre-season friendlies. He looks to have moved past these last two dark years and more ready to challenge for a starting position than last year. With Sane likely on the way out, he may just get that.

If Sam can play in at least 20 games this season, a good expectation is to be involved in 10 goals, either scoring or assisting them.

5) Franco Di Santo

With Swiss youngster Breel Embolo incoming, there’s little chance that that Argentine forward will have an easy path into the starting XI.

Di Santo scored 7 goals in 32 matches for Schalke last term, a disappointing return considering he scored 13 in 26 with Werder Bremen the year before.

Di Santo has a natural physique that should make him a lethal weapon. He’s tall at 6’4 and is faster than most poachers in the Bundesliga. But his touch and lack of proper positioning makes this hard working player an easy player to read and defend against.

No one doubts his hard work and cheery attitude makes him a reasonable player to keep, but if he wants to stay at Schalke and be a part of Heidel’s plans, he needs to become a lethal striker, as Schalke will be looking for Huntelaar’s heir this season.

What to expect of Mr. Franco? We’re going to set the bar at 10 goals this season, something I’m confident he can reach.

Schalke practicing in Orlando last January (Photo: Liam Newberry)
Schalke practicing in Orlando last January (Photo: Liam Newberry)