FC Schalke 04 welcomed red-hot and in-form VfB Stuttgart Sunday night and played out a deserved 1-1 draw after goals from Younhes Belhanda and Martin Harnik in the first and second half, respectively.
The opening minutes were all Stuttgart as they prodded the Schalke midfield and defense early on, but those were the only minutes afforded to the away side as the Royal Blues gained composure and momentum. They were rewarded in the 14th minute, after S04 newboy Belhanda selflessly laid off a pass for another S04 newboy, Alessandro Schopf, whose shot was saved by Przemyslaw Tyton. Belhanda, a Moroccan international, took no time to meet the deflection with his head and send his home side up 1-0. For the remaining half, Schalke looked the side to score more goals, but misfires and poor vision prevented them from coming close to testing the Polish keeper once again.
Once the second half began, the tables seemed turn and suddenly, Schalke were pegged back for nearly the entire half as they survived wave after wave of attacks from the Swabians before veteran Harnik tapped in a crucial goal from a corner in the 74th minute, no more than three minutes after the Austrian had been brought to the pitch.
The remaining minutes saw Schalke with a few key chances, especially Joel Matip’s header from a Johannes Geis set piece, but none were put away and the home crowd had to feel disappointed that the Royal Blues couldn’t see out the match.
It was an entertaining draw with 31 shots. Here are the picks for the best and not-so-best aspects of the match.
Winner: Stuttgart’s form
At one point this season, Stuttgart were mired in the drop zone. For sure, they were going to continue their poor run of form from prior seasons and remain stuck at the bottom half of the table, at very best. But since their 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen way back in December 9 of last year, they have yet to lose a league match in the Jurgen Kramny era, save his first game in charge against Borussia Dortmund.
.The Swabians have claimed the scalps of teams like Wolfsburg, FC Koln and most recently Hertha Berlin along the way. They’re a thorn in every team’s side now due to their quick counter attacks and fluid passing and switching, something Schalke struggled with in the second half. Stuttgart contained 54% possession away at the Veltinz Arena, which is no easy feat.
Though their winning streak (dating back to December 19 to their 3-1 win at home to Wolfsburg) has abruptly ended, their performance suggests that they won’t be losing in the foreseeable future, with struggling sides Hannover 96, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenhaim their next three matches.
Loser: Leroy Sane
It seems that the better that Schalke gets around the pitch, the less we see moments of brilliance from prodigy Leroy Sane.
The strategy has evolved past “get the ball to Sane and run,” since Breitenreiter has slowly began to restore the team to some consistency. It seems to have isolated Sane more, as we don’t see him get the ball as much. Yesterday, there wasn’t much of an argument against this.
Sane lost the ball. A lot. A few promising counter attacks ended with Sane unable to spot the pass to a teammate running alongside. He lost the ball in his own half twice, resulting in half-chances for Stuttgart. And he seems oblivious to some really nice passes. Overall, his game has dropped from the high pedestal he once was perched upon, and it looks like he might need some time on the bench to recover from what might be an over strenuous season for the 20-year old. After all, he’s played in every league game this season for Schalke, a big change from the season prior that didn’t see him start until mid-March under Roberto di Matteo.
Winner: Younhes Belhanda
One of the most in-form players for Schalke this half of the season, Belhanda has proved to be an invaluable loan deal, scoring two goals in as many league games.
But watching him play does even more to sell what kind of player he is for Schalke. He weaves between defenders, even when they’re stacked like bricks. He’s very precise and brings a lot of technical prowess in lieu of how Max Meyer does. The Moroccan has been turning heads since he was part of the Montpellier side that won Ligue 1 four years ago and scored one of the truly greatest goals broadcast football has ever seen.
Perhaps in Germany, he can recreate the form he was first discovered with in France, and with the sheer amount of attack-minded youth players, the 25 year-old may even serve as a leader for them. Time will tell how fruitful his spell at Schalke will be.
Loser: Daniel Didavi
Almost completely absent the entire game, Daniel Didavi was not at his normal self in Gelsenkirchen.
The leading goalscorer for Stuttgart this season was well-marked and had only a few glimpses at goal, but never could convert. For that, it took veteran Martin Harnik to bring the game to where it already should’ve been: a level scoresheet. Didavi had virtually no impact whatsoever for the 62 minutes he was on, and he was the first substituted player for that reason.
Perhaps playing against the less defensively-astute sides in the coming weeks will help him breathe some life in his football, although he will miss next week due to yellow card accumulation..
Winner: Ralf Fährmann
There are many mysteries in world football. But one that continues to plague the minds of those who know or watch Ralf Fährmann play is how he has yet to be called to the National Team.
The 27-year old stopper pulled off some absolute class saves, denying efforts in and outside his box. He made a whopping eight saves, and was a shoe-in for man of the match.
But seriously, though: let’s talk, Joachim Löw. This man is an absolute monster in goal, and if statistics are anything to go by, Fährmann will (for the third consecutive season) be the best keeper in Germany.
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