Two defeats to open the new Bundesliga season was not the start last year’s Vizemeister Schalke were looking for- far from it. There were observers in pre-season who believed the Königsblauen were going to struggle to replicate their second-place finish and the early signs are they were right. What worked for Domenico Tedesco last season has not functioned thus far and it looks like Schalke are going to need a Plan B.
The club’s success last season, which led to them finishing as runners-up to Bayern Munich and achieving their highest Bundesliga finish in eight years, was unspectacular to look at, but effective in garnering results. The passionate fans at the Veltins Arena were happy (if that’s the right word) to go along with a brand of football they were unused to because it was bringing in the required points.
Domenico Tedesco’s side were not the most expansive side in the league, but rather built their play around a solid defensive base, that patiently lulled their opponents and the hit them with quick transition play when they were most vulnerable. Their pressing forced opponents into errors and their hard running and tackling was a huge plus point.
So far this season in consecutive defeats to VfL Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin, their approach hasn’t worked. Both Bruno Labbadia and Pal Dardai had worked out their Plan A and countered it impressively to render it ineffective. Hertha in particular were happy to allow the Königsblauen more possession forcing them to instigate rather than absorb and react.
“We imagined things very differently” defender Naldo said after the Hertha loss. “That we win in Wolfsburg and also at home to Berlin. I feel sorry for our fans that things haven’t gone well. We now have to work and be better in two weeks’ time.”
Coach Domenico Tedesco added: “The things which we are good at we will carry on doing well, and those things which didn’t work today won’t be tried again in the future. I take full responsibility for the mistakes made today.”
So just what has gone wrong for Schalke and their coach, who last season could seemingly do no wrong?
It would be unfair and unjustified to single out any particular players to point the finger at from the opening two games, but rather the team as a whole don’t look as harmonious as last season. There are plenty of newcomers and of course they will take time to settle and acclimatise to the Schalke system, but time is not something the Bundesliga is going to give you. Salif Sané has come into the centre of defence and Mark Uth has been added to the forward line with both looking far from 100% secure.
The tinkering with the formation also hasn’t helped iron out any uncertainties. Last seasons settled 3-4-2-1 has already seen variations this season with both a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 line-up tried at various times in the games. Yes, you have to be tactically adaptable and react to developments in games, but it has seemed at times that the players are not always 100% sure of what is required.
Individual errors have played a big part in both defeats with very avoidable goals being conceded. Matchday 1 at Wolfsburg saw atrocious marking from a corner bring the opening goal for John Anthony Brooks, while an undisciplined tackle from Nemanja Nastasic saw him red-carded and Schalke down to ten men for the majority of the game.
A lack of pressing the man on the ball against Hertha led to their opener, while poor Weston McKennie playing as a nominal left-back in a back-four was exposed for pace by Javairo Dilrosun. The Berliner could and should have doubled their lead in the first half when confusion between Baba and Sané let in Salomon Kalou for a very presentable chance.
Another aspect of the Hertha loss, which was disappointing was Tedesco’s failure to react to the man-marking job Ondrej Duda did on debutant Sebastian Rudy until the 51st minute. The deadline day signing from Bayern was totally ineffective due to the attentions of Duda and the lack of creativity was a major feature of Schalke’s play.
Of course it is still very early in the season and you shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions, but on the other hand there are one or two worrying signs for Schalke fans. What doesn’t help is the fixtures they have coming up after the conclusion of the first international break. An away trip to Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday 3 is far from an easy task when you consider what happened to Bayer Leverkusen there on matchday 1. Then comes the visit of champions Bayern Munich to the Veltins Arena on matchday 4 with their Champions League opener against FC Porto sandwiched in-between.
Domenico Tedesco, for the first time really in his short tenure at the club, has some hard thinking to do as he seeks to get Schalke’s season up and running. Last season’s Plan A did what it was intended to do, but do the Königsblauen need a Plan B if they are to avoid a serious case of ‘second season syndrome’?
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