August 23, 2017

Schalke 04 — 2017-18 Season Preview

Name: Fußballclub Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 e.V.
Nicknames: Die Königsblauen (The Royal Blues), Die Knappen (The Miners)
Founded: 4 May 1904 (as Westfalia Schalke. On and off, the football team was merged with gymnastic club Schalker Turnverein 1877 until they parted ways for one last time in 1924.)
Club colors: Blue and White (It was following the 1924 reform that they also adopted their now iconic kit. Schalke’s first colors were Red and yellow(!))
Rivals: Borussia Dortmund
Fan friendship: 1. FC Nürnberg (multiple accounts on its origins – FCN site (German) and Bundesliga’s English site), Wuppertaler SV (many of the current Regionalliga side fans sympathize with S04), Heart of Midlothian F.C. (budding friendship)

Veltins-Arena

Former name: Arena AufSchalke (2001-2005)

Capacity: 62,271 (league), 54,740 (international – no need for at least another season)
2016-17 attendance (source: transfermarkt) : 1,032,961 (60,762 per match) (5 sold out matches, 97.6% of full capacity)

Trophies

German Championship (7): 1934, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1958

DFB-Pokal (5): 1937 (back when the competition known by the name of Tschammer-Pokal and S04 became the first team to win the double back then.), 1971-72, 2000-01, 2001-02 (excluding the giant of the game, Bayern München, S04 is the only club to defend their Pokal title successfully since 1980) , 2010-11

2. Bundesliga: 1981-82, 1990-91 (their last memory of life in second-tier)

UEFA Cup: 1996-97

2016-17 Finishes

Bundesliga: 10th with 43 points (45 goals scored, 40 allowed, +5 GD)

UEFA Europa League: Quarter finals (defeat on away goals (3-3) to eventual finalists Ajax after the second leg went into extra-time)

DFB Pokal: Quarter finals (3-0 loss to Bayern München)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 8 in Bundesliga (14 in total)
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 3 (7)
Number of Matches drawn: 10 (13)
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 7 (7)
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 6(9)
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 2 (2) – in space of three days in September
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 5 (6)
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 4 (6)
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 1 (1)

Top 2016-17 Scorers

Guido Burgstaller: 9 in Bundesliga (12 in total) only arrived in January

Alessandro Schöpf: 6 (8)

Leon Goretzka: 5 (8)

Nabil Bentaleb: 5 (7)

Summer Test Results

Record: 5-2-0
Goals Scored: 16
Goals Allowed: 5

8 July: SpVgg Erkenschwick 1-9 Schalke (Highlights) – With a solid number of 5,187 fans in attendance, S04 started their preseason test matches with a heavy win against a sixth-tier side. 19-year-old American striker Haji Wright scored four goals in the space of 16 second-half minutes, while Atsuto Uchida, who last played a league game more than two years ago, scored a brace in his return from injury.

15 July: Paderborn 0-1 Schalke (Highlights) – In the Benteler Arena, Yevhen Konoplyanka’s early strike was enough for Schalke to beat the club who stayed in 3. Liga because of 1860 Munich’s failure to obtain a license. The Ukrainian also scored a brace a week earlier against Erkenschwick. Highly-rated new signing Amine Harit made his debut for the Royal Blues.

19 July: Schalke 3-2 Beskitas (Highlights) – In Schalke’s first match of the Asia Tour, Domenico Tedesco’s side secured a topsy-turvy win against a team who was about to take the world of transfer announcements to another level. Konoplyanka continued his fine scoring form and there was also first Schalke goals for Harit and former U19 player Luke Hemmerich before the Turkish club scored twice in the last fifteen minutes.

21 July: Schalke 1-1 Inter Milan (Highlights) – Bastian Oczipka made his debut, as Schalke faced the Serie A outfit in the Olympic Sports Center in Beijing. Daniel Caligiuri opened the scoring with a belter before Jeison Murillo equalized with an even better strike.

26 July: Schalke 1-0 Neftchi Baku (Highlights) – Schalke welcomed the eighttime Azerbaijani champions in their training camp in Mittersall. Bernhard Tekpetey scored the only goal, but the spotlight was on the return of long-time absentees Breel Embolo and Benedikt Höwedes.

30 July: Schalke 1-0 Eibar – The three S04 players who lifted the U21 Euro championship – Thilo Kehrer, Max Meyer and Felix Platte – made their return but the only goal of the game arrived courtesy of a bizarre own-goal.

5 August: Crystal Palace 1-1 Schalke (Highlights) – The Royal Blues managed to end their pre-season preparations without a defeat by sharing the spoils against the English Premier League side at Selhurst Park. Paulo Insua scored Schalke’s goal with the assist provided by fellow new signing Oczipka.

Questions with a Fan:

For this section, I talked to an avid Royal Blues fan Stefan Börjesson (@borjeboy84). Stefan is from Varberg, a small town in the south part of Sweden, where he supports Schalke since 2009. The transfer market madness gave him another reason to hate Dortmund, as if there is any need, as he suspects BVB will be targeting for the services of Maxwel Cornet from his other beloved club Olympique Lyon at a cheap price. Many thanks to Stefan and Nicole (@Blaueschmiede), who was helpful in our search, for making this happen.

Keep an eye out for . . .

Leon Goretzka had a great season last term and was also awarded the Confederation cup selection, where he showed the world just how good he is. Still young, I think he will keep developing more this season. Weston Mckennie had a great preseason and I hope he gets playing times in the Bundesliga this season. He’s only 18-years-old but looks so promising.

Terrace favorite . . .

Homegrown player Benedikt Höwedes is our captain and he has been loyal to the club. He has enough qualities to be at a top 10 club in the world. But he has always chosen to stay at Schalke 04 and it feels like he will remain here his whole career.

Player that should be driven to another club . . .

After Chupo Moting left the club, I would say that most of us probably want Sidney Sam to leave the club.

Advice you’d give your manager . . .

Keep playing with pace upfront and don’t be afraid to use our young players since we are a club filled with talents.

Opposition player you despise . . .

That is a tough one since I dont really despise anyone but then there are players I dislike and one of them is Timo Werner of Leipzig mostly cause he is a diver, although he’s so good that he doesn’t need to do it.

What will opposing sides underestimate?

I hope that we will start scoring goals and create chances with the help of our new players (Harit has been good for us so far so I hope he will continue.) But I’m afraid that our lack of goals will continue this season.

What are fans overestimating?

That’s a tough question but maybe that we aren’t really a Champions League pedigree team. Still wondering if we lack something in creative midfield. Possible we also overestimate our new coach, he hasn’t been coaching a Bundesliga club before, albeit results in preseason has been good.

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting Veltins-Arena for the first time

Definitely try to get a ticket in the Nordkurve to experience a German football atmosphere at its very best. Also, stay in Düsseldorf when you get there, as is close to Gelsenkirchen but a much better city. GE is kind of boring. Also, your match ticket can be served as a ticket for the train to GE from Düsseldorf so no need for an extra train ticket

Where will S04 finish? . . .

I hope Schalke 04 will finish in the European spots, as I expect RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim, Köln and Hertha Berlin to struggle with their involvements in Europe. Makes me think we can get there … but I can easily see us in the mid-table

What is your standout Schalke memory from last season?

Personally, it is when I got to see Schalke 04 last season, my first live game was a Europa League match against OGC Nice. It was a great experience. Also, of course, Bentalebs goal that was selected as the goal of the season was special.

When last we saw them

Given Schalke’s recent poor record in Bundesliga’s opening round of fixtures – only one win since the 2009/10 season eye-opener – the narrow defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt in the curtain raiser didn’t get in the way of Schalke fans’ excitements. The arrival of Markus Weinzierl and Christian Heidel as manager and director of sport, respectively, promised much before the season start. Weinzierl managed to exceed expectations in his previous posts at Bavarian clubs Jahn Regensburg and FC Augsburg to the point that he led the latter to the knockout stages of the Europa League. But it was the hiring of Heidel which brought the high expectations, as the guy who worked wonders at Mainz 05 for some fifteen years replaced the much-maligned Horst Heldt.

It was a baptism of fire for the duo, as Frankfurt still managed to dispatch Schalke despite squandering a penalty-kick and played the last ten minutes with ten-man. The very first home match pitted Schalke against Bayern München, who recorded some heavy wins against the Royal Blues down the years. The fans were impressed by their team’s strong showing that kept the four-time defending champions at bay until the last ten minutes. But they started to lose their patience by the end of September, with Schalke exhibiting zero league point in the standing before hosting Borussia Mönchengladbach in matchday six.

The emphatic 4-0 win against the Foals changed the scenery, although one could claim the final scoreline was flattering. A soft penalty duly converted by the industrious Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was a sucker punch for the dominating visitors at the start of the second half before all hell broke loose with Breel Embolo netting a brace sandwiched by Leon Goretzka’s strike, as Schalke doubled their first five weeks goal tally in a single match. In the aftermath, Weinzierl’s troops managed to go seven-game unbeaten in the league, including scoring three goals each in their three consecutive home fixtures. Their continental form was even more impressive, as they won their first five group stage games in the Europa League, only conceding one goal in the process.

But, once again, when a minor fall out happens, it took their good spirit to a dumpster. After going two months unbeaten, Schalke only managed to collect one point from four league games in December. It all started with an ill-fated fixture against the emerging giants from Leipzig. In a closely fought encounter, Timo Werner’s blatant dive won’t win him or the club many fans but crucial three points. Four days later, a second-string Schalke team lost to RB Leipzig’s “sister” club, RB Salzburg, in Europa League before they had to settle for a single point from the final three matches of 2016 against sides out of the top eight.

Schalke hoped to close the gap with fellow European hopefuls in the second half of the season but they spend their time wallowing in the mid-table, eventually settling in tenth place. A deep run in Europe rolled two decades back to brought back memories of the UEFA Cup triumphant side, but the stressful calendar put its dent on their league form. In general, there were some impressive results in the league but they only managed one back-to-back win since November. They held all the four clubs who finished the season in Champions League places to identical 1-1 draws after the winter break, with the obvious marquee event being Thilo Kehrer’s late equalizer in another feisty derby against Dortmund.

Their European journey only become a real thing when they seeded against Gladbach in the round of 16 and they crashed out in the next round by the hands of a youthful Ajax Amsterdam side, but it felt like one memorable surge at the end. They only secured a draw in the first leg against Gladbach and they were two goals down when the referee whistled for the half-time break in the return leg. But they fought back their way to go through on away goals rule, which was a test of their own medicine for Gladbach faithful. After a lackluster display in the first-leg and a struggling first-half at Veltins, Schalke were at it again to revert a two-goal deficit in forty-five minutes in the quarter-finals.

They did manage that but couldn’t get beyond. In a match that you can’t seriously question the players’ fighting spirit and determination, none more so than that of Goretzka’s, Schalke held an extra-time lead before collapsing in the last ten minutes, with the final nails provided by none other than the former Gladbach youngster Amin Younes. At the end, Schalke faced with the reality that they will be missing European football for only the second time since 2001. Weinzierl divided fans with some calling for a managerial stability, but he couldn’t avoid the sack at the end of the season.

Aspiration

Europe. It always is. With their rare absence from the continental football limelight, getting back those midweek actions will be the only target for the season. On a side note, the DFB-Pokal presented the only chance of landing a trophy and could be seen as another route to secure a Europa League place. With their fourth place ranking in Bundesliga’s market value standings, revered academy, traditional roots and their passionate fanbase, Schalke are one of the big dogs in the Bundesliga.

Reality

Like it or not, this has to be the part where we (at least, I) have to mention the long-awaited reference of Arsenal. Schalke fans are well-known with their ambitious expectations (at times a logical one). The fact that they are yet to win the Bundesliga shield (or did so only for four minutes or so) consistently put the fans on edge. The arrival of Heidel did change matters, as a clearly sought-after plan could be seen from the shift in their transfer activities, with the project getting the fans’ blessing.

The competition will be expected to rise this term, as Schalke won’t be the only top team to revamp their once granted European football qualification. A host of young players played huge roles in Schalke’s last campaign and we could only contemplate they would get more playing time under the new coach. From the promising youngster Embolo to the experienced fullback Coke, the best of Heldt’s summer acquisitions had an injury-prone debut season, forcing many to consider them as defacto new signings for the upcoming season.

The Boss

As Stefan noted in our QA with a club fan, the hype around Domenico Tedesco is immense. The Manager (while you are at it, listen to BF’s own Abel Meszaros waxing lyrical about the guy who gets the nod for the most interesting coaches among the new comers by Talking Fussball) only has 11 games to show as a coach of a senior team and his English Wikipedia page was created on the day he was unveiled as Weinzierl’s replacement.

It would be a crime to not mention Julian Nagelsmann, who actually was bettered by Tedesco when the duo took the same Fussballehrer course as mentioned by Matt Herrmann in the aforementioned podcast, given that the Hoffenheim coach’s success further opened the door for Germany’s youthful coaching revolution. Erzgebirge Aue were at the bottom of the 2. Bundesliga when Tedesco took charge in March, as his five-match unbeaten start (including four wins) played a huge part in their eventual survival, which doesn’t even need a help of playoffs. His decision to actively train with the players in the pre-season was a sight to behold and one that only adds to the fans’ excitements over the new man in charge.

Although the general vibe is a positive one, Schalke’s experience with their last two hirings doesn’t bode well for the recent development. Both André Breitenreiter and Weinzierl couldn’t last more than a season at the helm after being entrusted with Schalke’s project based on their achievements with inferior sides. In fact, they both managed Bundesliga sides before taking care of Schalke, while Tedesco’s only experience at the head coach level is few months at a struggling second-tier club. But, with a better luck of players fitness, the German-Italian coach will have players that will be synced well with his energetic approach.

Philosophy

Although it should be expected from the relegation battle Aue were involved in, Tedesco’s time at the tiny Bundesliga 2. club was not filled with flaring football. He recorded all his first three wins by a good old 1-0 scoreline and the team only scored 14 goals in 11 games under his tutelage. There were flashes of defensive stability in the pre-season, as well, although the coach rightly reminded everyone that we shouldn’t read much into results of preparation games.

New-signings Pablo Insua and Bastian Oczipka will be hoping to break into the starting lineup, while Atsuto Uchida and Naldo set their targets on shrugging off their injuries owes. Nabil Bentaleb is expected to lead Schalke’s midfield once again alongside Leon Goretzka, with Max Meyer, Amine Harit, Embolo and Daniel Caligiuri providing multiple options to add spice to the team’s attacking flair. With Klaas-Jan Huntelaar finally seeing the exit door, the designated late bloomer Guido Burgstaller will lead the side from upfront.

Plan B

You mean like Johannes Geis as a central defender? At the mean time, the squad is one of the best around in the Bundesliga. But as we have learned in the past, you can’t bet on the severity of injuries. In addition to some of the best young talents in the league – Donis Avdijaj and Felix Platte, to name a few — versatile players like Alessandro Schöpf and Yevhen Konoplyanka will add further options in the final third of the pitch.

Notable Transfers

Unless the recent multi-club shakeup caused by Neymar’s unexpected mega transfer reached Schalke to create some havoc, they already completed the majority of their pre-season business dealings. They would be happy to offload Sidney Sam and there could be loan deals for some of their young players, but they did address the essential issues early in the market. They turned the loan deals of Bentaleb and Konoplyanka permanent, making the two players their “expensive signings” of the season. Six players left the club on a free transfer, including the versatile attacker Choupo-Moting and club legend Huntelaar. The commanding figure of Sead Kolasinac is another player to leave on a free this summer, while Schalke splashed out more than $5 million for his replacement in form of Eintracht Frankfurt’s Bastian Oczipka.

Out:

  • Fabian Giefer (Augsburg)

  • Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Stoke City)

  • Dennis Aogo (Stuttgart)

  • Sead Kolasinac (Arsenal)

  • Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax)

  • Haji Wright (Sandhausen)

  • Sascha Riether (free agent)

In:

  • Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur, loan made permanent)

  • Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla, loan made permanent)

  • Amine Harit (Nantes)

  • Bastian Oczipka (Eintracht Frankfurt)

  • Paulo Insua (Deportivo La Coruna)

Strengths

Squad depth, full of energy, lack of expectations (relatively) and no European distractions. If he finds the right formula for his squad, Tedesco could get the best out of the revamped Schalke side. Players like Goretzka and Meyer will be vying to take the next step in their promising careers after triumphant summer tournaments in the Confederation Cup and Euro U21, respectively. For the likes of Kehrer and Platte, they will fight for playing times against predominant names. The return of injured players – most importantly, the mesmerizing Embolo – could also prove decisive in turning their fortunes this time around.

Weaknesses

The fitness level of players, top-team mentality, inconsistency and options in the forward department. Like their rivals Dortmund, Schalke have been depleted by injuries to key players in the past few seasons. With the fitness of some of their players still on the question mark, including that of skipper Höwedes, they could be forced to reshuffle come to the crucial point of the season once again. They also lacked that mentality of a big club, partly due to the lack of star players signings in recent seasons. Burgstaller showed his attacking prowess in his first six months at the club, but the club looked thin in giving a real competition for the old-fashioned striker.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

The first weeks will be crucial after the memories of last season. With RB Leipzig paying a visit to Veltins on the opening weekend, Schalke are presented with a great opportunity to make an early statement. The highly-anticipated derby will be played in November and April, while S04 will end the campaign at home against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Verdict

5th Place: A return to European football, although not the holy grail, Champions League. Don’t give much emphasis here, though, as I don’t have the best of reputations in the prediction game.

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical difference, he is interested in every detail of German football. He breathes football to the point that he gets pleasure from nutmegging his innocent kid. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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