If the result is all that matters in this grand game, and in many ways it is, then Schalke have much to smile about after defeating one of their main rivals, the Foals of Gladbach, in a 1-0 victory at home. The point has moved the Royal Blues into third place, closely followed by Bayer Leverkusen and FC Augsburg.
That is one of the two ways in which to take this game and Schalke’s play of 2015 thus far. From a smiling standpoint, they have taken seven of a possible nine points from their first three games. More impressively, they have allowed only one goal, even having used their third-string goalie, Timon Wellenreuther, for half of the time.
What is most astounding is that you can now use the term ‘well-organized defense’ for this club. It is not a term one could ever use to describe Schalke in recent memory. The back three of Matip, Nastasic, and Höwedes were effective in winning over 80% of their individual duels for the ball. Their tight clampdown on Gladbach’s attack made the job much easier for Wellenreuther.
Individually, Kevin Prince-Boateng stepped up to the plate and delivered one of his best performances of the season to date. He took a leadership role, delivered the game-winning cross, and nearly scored another in the second half.
The aforementioned Höwedes was again impressive at the back, delivering game-saving clearances and tackles.
The other way of looking at Schalke’s performance is more of worry and lack of expectation for the near future. The choice of a counterattacking strategy, regardless of whether the game is at home or on the road, raises a few points. For this game, Schalke had only 31% of the ball possession, while the 3-5-2 formation was effective in cutting down many of Gladbach’s possible opportunities.
Yet, can this tactic be continued, or is it even wise for a team like Schalke wanting to make a step beyond just a possible contender?
The answer for the near future is, in all likelihood, yes.
The shift has to be attributed to Di Matteo, who at least now has found a strategy for his club. Some of it may have been born of necessity due to continual injuries to players the likes of Draxler, Fahrmann, Kolasinac, Goretzka(who may soon return), and Farfan, not to mention the recent suspension of Huntelaar. It is worth wondering how how much longer this strategy can continue to succeed, even though it is obvious that Nastasic’s acquisition has been positive.
1. Kevin Prince-Boateng – As mentioned, perhaps his finest game of the year. His cross that set up Barretta’s goal was perfect in timing.
2. Jans Kirchoff-Simply – For the numbers: he led the team in distance covered (12.37 km) and passes (28).
3. Tranquillo Barnetta – Perfectly functioned goal that at least continues Schalke’s minimal hopes of being a consistent entrant into Champions League.
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