As much as it was a surprise that Schalke 04 ended up as runners-up in the Bundesliga in the first season under coach Domenico Tedesco, the massive drop in form this season is equally surprising. Despite a supposedly strong squad, S04 got off to a classic false start losing all of the first five games of the season and in late October they were 18th in the table. Since then, the Royal Blues have risen up the league but are still not performing to their own expectations with the latest 1-1 draw at Augsburg leaving them 13th. One light at the end of the tunnel in a disappointing first half of the season from a Schalke perspective: The team finished second in their Champions League group to achieve their target of going through to the Round of 16 where they now face the tough challenge of trying to overcome the next opponents Manchester City. The Royal Blues are still in the DFB Cup and they will play Fortuna Düsseldorf at the start of February, following on from their narrow victory over FC Köln on penalties in the previous round.
Tedesco has gained a reputation for being a hard-working tactician in record time and he uses a wide range of strategic methods in his search for success. Accordingly, he often changes his line-up. Given the busy period of fixtures it is only to be expected that he will make changes for the game against the Werkself compared with the side that faced Augsburg. Another consequence of Tedesco's working methods: The 33-year-old expects his players to be very versatile. Anybody who can play in several positions and different systems goes down well with the Schalke coach – for example Weston McKennie. The USA international has already played in all positions down the middle this season, from central defender at the start of the season through to central striker in the derby defeat against Borussia Dortmund. Similarly versatile, above all favourite players for Tedesco due to their running ability: the wingers Daniel Caligiuri (pictured above in the middle), the goalscorer at Augsburg, and Alessandro Schöpf, who can play in all positions on the flank both with a back three and a back four. One of the supposedly big names in the team needed time to gain the favour of Tedesco: Germany international Sebastian Rudy, signed towards the end of the transfer window, failed to shine for the Royal Blues at first and spent several weeks playing for the reserves. He finally won his regular berth in the side at the end of November and now he wants to live up to his advanced praise.
A left back as central striker. With the score at 0-1 in the most prestigious match of the year, Tedesco's substitution in the Revier derby against BVB demonstrated the personnel crisis up front: When the last 'genuine' number nine Guido Burgstaller had to go off due to injury, the S04 coach brought on the defender Hamza Mendyl who formed the attack alongside his fellow defender McKennie. It was an attempt to make a tactical tweak, as Tedesco later explained, but also due to the absence of alternatives. The first half of the season is already over for the two established central strikers Breel Embolo and Mark Uth Due to injury and Cedric Teuchert was the front man at Augsburg. The bad luck with injuries has hit Schalke in a position that has really failed to get going this season. The Royal Blues have only scored 16 goals in 15 Bundesliga games and five of those came in the home win against FC Nürnberg. The top goalscorer for Schalke is Nabil Bentaleb, tellingly a midfielder – and also due to a particular reason. The Algerian has scored all three of his goals this season from the penalty spot.
One year gone, six months below expectations: That is the summary of the Tedesco era at Schalke. Nevertheless, hopes are high in Gelsenkirchen that the young and highly ambitious coach will be a long-term solution. Over the past decade, no Schalke coach has gone into a third season at the Royal Blue helm. The prospects of breaking that barrier was created by a successful debut year for the German-Italian and the strengthening of the squad in the summer. Now he has to demonstrate his qualities in crisis management. If he is able to master this situation then Tedesco could finally provide continuity on the manager's bench. That would certainly not harm the club or their ambitious targets.
Horror start, bad luck in front of goal and an injury crisis: The second half of the season can only really get better for the Royal Blues. The team has enough quality to start making up ground – even if the gap already appears to big to repeat qualification for the Champions League. If Tedesco succeeds in putting together an effective strike force and the personnel situation improves then it is definitely possible Schalke will be in the running to achieve a Europa League finish.
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