Our next opponents: Schalke back on track

A real treat awaits visitors to the BayArena on Sunday (25 February). The Werkself entertain Schalke 04 in a 15.30 CET kick-off. As if the meeting of the two teams was not already attractive enough, this encounter has a special edge: Bayer 04 and S04 meet as direct rivals in the race for a European finish – an evenly balanced game is to be expected as the lowdown on our opponents reveals.


The downturn is over and Schalke 04 are back on track. Domenico Tedesco's players produced  a solid team performance last weekend to win 2-1 against Hoffenheim and maintain their challenge in the race for a Champions League spot. The team from the Ruhr, that went into the winter break in second place after an excellent first half of the season under Tedesco, have failed to live up to their potential in recent weeks. In the first five league games of 2018, the Royal Blues have only picked up points against VfB Stuttgart (2-0) and Hannover 96 (1-1) – and the team from Gelsenkirchen slipped down to sixth place in a tight top third of the Bundesliga. That did not change with the three points gained at Hoffenheim. Nevertheless, Schalke are only one point and two places behind Bayer 04. There is another indicator of the high quality the two teams share at the moment: Just like the Werkself, the Royal Blues are also in the semi-finals of the DFB Cup. Schalke 04 are at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in the middle of April.


Probably the most important personnel decision was taken by the management at Schalke in the pre-season – and they took a risk. In Domenico Tedesco, the Royal Blues engaged a coach who had previously saved Erzgebirge Aue from relegation from the second division but otherwise had no experienced in the professional game. That decision has certainly paid off to date. Tedesco, at the age of 32, represents the new generation of coaches alongside Julian Nagelsmann, and he has undoubtedly managed to convey a clear plan to his players. The foundations of that are: The coach plays three at the back and relies on extremely quick players on the wings like Daniel Caligiuri and Alessandro Schöpf who are strong in attack or in defence. That's ensures balance in Schalke's game. However, they will miss key players at the end of the season: Germany international Leon Goretzka (above left), one of the biggest talents in German football, is turning his back on Gelsenkirchen after five years to join FC Bayern. In the second half of the season, the 23 year-old, who scored direct from a free kick in the 1-1 draw with Bayer 04 earlier in the campaign, is looking to play a major part again after being sidelined with injury. However, Goretzka had to miss training due to injury at the start of the week and it remains to be seen whether he will play against the Werkself. Definitely missing for the big match are homegrown talent Weston McKennie (knee) and summer signing Pablo Insua has not played a single match for Schalke due to a heart disease.


Nabil Bentaleb has certainly ruffled feathers and caused upset at Schalke. The Algerian, who stood out in central midfield last season, has not been included in the squad recently in spite of his enormous potential on the pitch. The reason: Disciplinary problems that even led to an internal team meeting. "If we win 5-0 and Nabil doesn't play then he's the sort of bloke who goes round behaving like we'd lost 5-0," said sporting director Christian Heidel in explaining the misconduct of the 23-year-old to the 'kicker': "If everybody behaved like that then we'd have a huge problem."  At the same time: Following the home win against Hoffenheim, Heidel said the problem child had dealt perfectly with the situation. So it is a possibility that Bentaleb may return to the squad for the Werkself match.


After a turbulent period with numerous changes of coaches and management there now appears to be stability at Schalke. In Tedesco,  the Royal Blues found a coach who is valued as an expert in the game  and also has enormous potential – exactly like some of his players. This year, the currently injured McKennie (19) managed to move up from the Schalke academy to the first team squad, which has brought through outstanding talents for years. Thilo Kehrer (21), another product of the youth system, became a regular starter under Tedesco and he scored his first goal of the season with a header against Hoffenheim. And players like Max Meyer (22), Breel Embolo (21) and Amine Harit (20) still have a long way to go before they peak. If the Royal Blues remain faithful to this policy then they will almost certainly enjoy a bright future.


There is not much to choose between the teams trailing Bayern Munich at the moment. The race for positions two to six is tight and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. In all probability, Schalke are likely to occupy one of those positions in the end. At this point, it is difficult to predict exactly where they will finish. Games between the rival teams may well provide a pointer. The match at the BayArena has immediate significance – for both sides.

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