It took 255 minutes, but the Schalke attack is finally off and running in 2016/17. As many 04 fans would have guessed, Abdul Rahman Baba was the first to net a goal for the Gelsenkirchen side in the 75th minute of the club’s Europa League win over Nice on Thursday.
Schalke still have yet to score in the league going into matchday 3 of the Bundesliga and the club’s attack has looked as inept as it did in 2014/15 when they only scored 42 goals in the entire Bundesliga campaign.
New manager Markus Weinzierl may have uncovered the way to liven up his front line in the midweek trip to France. After 58 minutes, Weinzierl brought on youngster Max Meyer into the game for Benjamin Stambouli. The switch pushed midfielder Nabil Bentaleb farther back in the formation as the lone holding midfielder and Meyer was positioned next to fellow German international Leon Goretzka behind striker Breel Embolo.
Meyer set to work immediately making himself a nuisance for the Nice backline. Just 17 minutes later, Schalke got themselves their goal on an assist from the aforementioned Meyer to the advanced left back Rahman.
It was a goal completely within the run of play as the combo of Meyer and Goretzka began linking with Embolo, substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka and Eric Maxim Chupo-Moting to create chances. Meyer himself had a decent look at goal just moments before the score, when he turned and shot on the right side of the box off a feed from Goretzka. The shot was parried away, but Meyer’s intent was clear.
Max Meyer’s introduction next to Goretzka completely changed the complexion of the game. Thus, the question must be asked, why can’t both these two get into Weinzierl’s starting 11?
Goretzka was still nursing an injury he suffered playing in the Olympics this summer when Schalke opened the Bundesliga campaign, but the two don’t fit in their new manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. In the two Bundesliga matches so far, each has started one game in the center of the three attacking midfielders, but they have not found a way to appear together from the start.
A tactical change appears necessary, because getting both of these dynamic players onto the field is clearly necessary for the Royal Blues to put the ball in the net consistently.
The most logical change may be what the Schalke manager employed in Nice. In Thursday’s match, he ran a 4-3-3. In this formation the three midfielders were in a narrow triangle with one sitting behind the other two and just ahead of the backline. Of course, the Schalke boss didn’t get the personnel right until the 58th minute. The single holder, Bentaleb, allowed the other two midfielders to roam free and create the chances that Schalke has not had so far in the young season when utilizing the 4-2-3-1.
Similarly, Weinzierl often was fond of using a 4-1-4-1 at his previous job with Augsburg as an alternative to his favored 4-2-3-1. This formation offers the same flexibility in the center of the park and maintains the width of Chupo-Moting and Konoplyanka. The only question that must be asked is if the defense can survive with only one covering midfielder ahead of them. Given the experience and skill in that backline for Schalke, it shouldn’t be a problem against most opposition.
One final option also could benefit the captain of the team, Benedikt Höwedes, and again take advantage of the team’s three skilled center backs; as well as make room for Meyer and Goretzka. Schalke could set up with a 3-man backline, although it is something Weinzierl has never employed in his career as a top flight manager. Alongside Matija Nastasic and Naldo, Höwedes could play closer to his natural center back position than he currently does.
In the 4-man setup, Höwedes has been pushed out to the right back position; similarly to the way he was for the 2014 German World Cup team. It is a spot he can and has played at a high level, but by no means is it his best spot.
With three men in the back, an additional position would be available to add to the midfield. This could make the room necessary for Meyer and Goretzka to pair from the start.
It’s a bold proposition, but Schalke did experiment with three at the back last season before adding the experienced Naldo this summer. How the other five spots in the lineup would be assigned would be a big question, but the formation shift could do wonders to maximize the most skilled players on the team. However, it is much more plausible that Weinzierl will consider a modification to a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 like we saw against Nice.
What ever solution Markus Weinzierl goes with, he will need to do something to get his two young German’s a full 90 minutes together to maximize Schalke’s chances of scoring their first Bundesliga goal of the new season.
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