Schalke’s true beginning of the 2014/15 campaign began with a first round DFB Pokal defeat Monday to third division foes SG Dynamo Dresden, 2-1. It is important to remember that the season has just begun and yes it’s long and hard, but this mighty setback to Schalke just brings back up the questions that can never die, as the club again struggles to find a long-term consistency.
The defeat was Schalke’s only first round Cup exit for the past 25 years. Players like Julian Draxler (albeit a sub), Ralf Fahrmann and Felipe Santana (whose asinine penalty led to the first Dresden goal and was a crucial moment in the game), played well below sub-par on a team that boasted several World Cup players. One saw Schalke giving the ball away and lacking a rhythm to their attack. Dresden got away with a simple strategy of playing the long ball on the counterattack and outrunning a sluggish Royal Blues squad.
In the 24th minute Santana upended Dresden’s Luca Durholtz in the box, allowing Justin Eilers to score on penalty, outsmarting Fahrmann. The second Dresden goal came from a failed clearance by Joel Matip, leading to Dresden passing it all around Schalke’s penalty area before the game winner was scored in the 50th minute by defender Nils Teixeira. Matip later scored on a header in the 78th minute after a prolonged,mostly dire, unsuccessful attack from Schalke. Matip painfully holding his head after the goal and manager Jens Keller’s non-reaction visually symbolized the match.
On the bright side, one can say that now Schalke can concentrate on the duo of the Bundesliga games and the Champions League, plus receive rest when many of their top rivals will not. If you looked at Schalke’s starting XI Monday (Fahrmann, Kolasinac, Matp, Santana, Hoger, Boateng, Neustader, Moting, Meyer, Sam, Huntelaar), there were a few notable absences such as Draxler (came in later, did little) and defender Benedikt Höwedes,along with those already lost to injury like Jefferson Farfan, Leon Goretzka and Astuto Uchida. After this historic first round Pokal loss, combined with preseason defeats to EPL teams West Ham, Newcastle and Tottenham, five questions cannot be ignored .
1. Can this unit play like a team? They certainly didn’t against Dresden. What is meant by this question is “Can they come to each game with a succinct plan in place and a coach who has put this in place?” You can follow that if the answer is in the negative, the onus will and should fall on Keller.
2. Is Keller really worthy to be coaching a CL Bundesliga side? This question may seem staged but too often it appears that Keller has managed to elude his critics just enough to satisfy Schalke Sporting Director Horst Heldt. It cannot be forgotten that last season the team had a terrible downturn towards the Christmas break but recovered just enough to earn third, thanks largely to a huge downturn in form by Bayern Leverkusen and other pretenders running out of steam.
3. Is this the year that Julian Draxler will become an elite player? It is way too early to answer but there are no signs yet that Draxler has recovered from 13/14, in what was a disappointing year for the young star. If Draxler cannot rise and unleash the talent displayed before, and on a consistent basis, his place in Germany’s national teamt may well come into question.
4. Who else besides Draxler needs to progress as a player this year? In the recent past, it has been players like Raul, Huntelaar and last year, Kevin Prince-Boateng. This year a collective of Schalke’s younger players can rise and perhaps even fill the shoes of players like Uchida or even Farfan. Meyer, Neustader and Goretzka are the names to begin with.
5. What is the success criteria for this year? In recent years, Schalke fans seem to be satisfied with a Champions League qualification, often rising above the group stages and finishing third or fourth. That being said, a side with the talent it has and players like Huntelaar, Sam, Boateng and Choupo-Moting, along with Draxler, Meyer and Hoewedes should be aiming higher.
This year will unlikely see a first or second place finish due to the quality of squad and coaching in Munich and Dortmund, but an increase in points and a run to at least the CL quarter finals should be the aim of Keller’s team. It seems that often Schalke 04 are lacking in one area, lately being goalkeeper or defence. The team needs to see itself blossom and become more compact in all areas, If the young lead the way, this can happen. Otherwise, inconsistency and some gloomy results, like the loss to Dresden, will persist.
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