Our next opponents: The Royal Blues 2020

Bayer 04 go into the Bundesliga home straights as cup finalists. The Werkself are favourites in Sunday's away game at Schalke 04 on 14 June (kick-off: 18.00 CET) – because almost nothing is going right for the Royal blues. But why? The lowdown on Schalke 04.


There has been a glimmer of hope for Schalke 04 recently. In the 1-1 draw at Union Berlin, the Royal Blues did at least pick up one point in the fifth game since the Bundesliga restart. "I'm completely okay with the fight that we put up," said head coach David Wagner after the final whistle. He knows: It's the mentality the team needs to get back on track. Because the past few months have been a case of the Royal Blues. And 2020 got off to such a good start. Schalke 04 impressed in the first game in the second half of the season when they earned a deserved 2-0 victory over the rivals from Mönchengladbach and they were clearly on course for a European finish. But what nobody could have suspected at the time: The win against the Foals on 17 January was the last league victory for Schalke. Since then 12 matches have ended without the Royal Blues picking up three points. If it doesn't work out against the Werkself then that would be a new negative record in the long history of the club. At the moment, the position in the table shows that the team had an outstanding first half of the season. In spite of the long barren period, Schalke are still in a chance of finishing in seventh place, which after the wins for the Werkself and FC Bayern in the DFB Cup semifinals, will be enough to qualify for the Europa League.


"That all shows how great our adversity is," complained coach Wagner after the Union game with an eye on the improvisation required to field a team. The Schalke downturn of recent weeks is also due to big injury problems that have now piled up and that means Wagner now has to play four players in unusual positions: Against Union, the usual central defender Salif Sané had to play in a holding midfield role and that meant his position was taken up by a former Leverkusen player Bastian Oczipka who is completely unused to it. In attacking midfield there was Rabbi Matondo, a player rarely found in that position. However: Wagner is not spoilt for choice at the moment. Of the players on the bench in Berlin, the 20-year-old Ahmed Kutucu had by far the most experience with 34 Bundesliga appearances..

Nevertheless: For the clash with Bayer 04, Wagner can hope to see the return of a number of key players. Weston McKennie is set to return after serving a one-match ban – and three more players could be available in the centre of defence after recovering from injury. Both Jean-Clair Todibo as well as Matiaja Nastasic have recently been sidelined but there is hope that they can return on Sunday. Out with injury four months, the key player Benjamin Stambouli is now able to at least complete parts of full training but is probably not an option for the game against Bayer 04.


While there could be some relief in defence, there is still a long injury list amongst the forwards. Guido Burgstaller recently suffered a torn knee ligaments and is now out for the rest of the season. A particularly bitter blow for Schalke 04: The two most impressive players in attack are missing. Suat Serdar and Amine Harit were not only at the centre of many of the best moments in an impressive first half of the season but they were also the top two scorers for the side from Gelsenkirchen. The season is already over for Serdar due to a knee injury and it also remains to be seen whether Harit (collateral ligament injury) can play against Bayer 04. Looking at the goals scored reveals that the two players are a big miss for Schalke: In the second half of the season, the Royal Blues have only scored six goals – the lowest number in the whole of the Bundesliga.


What is a minor problem at the moment, could pay dividends over the long term: Schalke 04 have a large number of players from their almost legendary academy who are on course to move up from the youth section to the first team squad. In addition to Kutucu (20), midfielder Nassim Boujellab (20) has regularly played this season; Malick Thiaw (18) and Levent Mercan (19) have made their debuts and Can Bozdogan (19) was also in the squad for the first time in Berlin. The outstanding youth development work continues to be a reliable source of players that Schalke 04 can rely on in the future.


This team has the quality to qualify for Europe in spite of all the failings shown in recent months. Nevertheless: The turnaround has to start in the game against the Werkself to be able to get back in the running for a European finish. And: The run of injuries should not hamper Schalke as much as it has done in recent months. Only if the injury list eases quickly and the team can clock up a first win, can Schalke 04 possibly achieve a positive end to this disappointing second half of the season.

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