The beginning of the season wasn’t that great. As a new coach was brought into the game, he reached his main goal to improve the defense, but failed the team towards the end of the season. So the team got rid of him. Question is: „Why?“

Keller leaves

This season kicked off with the head coach, Jens Keller. This was due to the best second half of last season (see last year’s review), which was the best in the club’s history, despite there being no development of players or the game in general. However it is important to note that in German Football, important decisions are intertwined with populism and often covered with cheap excuses – all primarily about results. In reality, the first matches in the German Cup and Bundesliga were terrible.

Keller, again, did not manage to fill the gap in the Schalke game during the summer break. And the previous issues were painfully repeated and covered up by the success of the club’s second half. As soon as this ‘cover’ faded, he was sacked (after game day 7). Timing is everything.

Di Matteo approaching

One of the problems Keller never really managed to solve was stabilizing the defense. Which is why the ‘king of this discipline’ was brought in: Roberto Di Matteo. He came with a clear vision and tactical skills. Schalke switched to 3 centre backs in a 5-3-2 formation and with this came team tactical behavior as well as group tactical behavior and also on the individual level. There was even a whiff of a possession game.

RDM was fortunate and not only did he ‘accidentally’ win the Champions League, by parking busses, he brought tactical understanding to Schalke. And, in despite of being accused of playing nothing but Catenaccio, he managed to stabilize the defence. Strategically, he tweaked the games according to the opponent, much more than it has been seen at Schalke. Only 4 teams ended up with less goals received in the Bundesliga.

Di Matteo departing

With Jefferson Farfán back in business, Schalke switched back to 2 centre backs and the previously used formation 4-2-3-1 again. Thereafter, Schalke’s defence became less stable. Additionally, it became increasingly obvious that Schalke lacked a concept for scoring goals. The beginning of a vicious circle of increased pressure and thus the game worsening and the team becoming depressed and scatty. RDM unfortunately did not manage to convince the team to ‘play football’ again, which resulted in individualism and a lack of discipline. Finally the coach left, stating his idea of football is different than the one Schalke’s management had in mind.

Low level Bundesliga

There have been plenty of ‘big words’ in the media around the German Bundesliga, “league of the world champions” and “the most exciting relegation situation ever”, tacticians call it the “pressing league”. Truth is, except for 4 teams at the top, the whole league was consistency bad this season. Schalke was to large parts one of the better teams, but barely, justifying the Europa League qualification.

The fact that it was such a tight competition in terms of who would move down shows how low the level of performance was. One team even made it from last position to the Europa League qualification in less than half a season. Thus, clearly all teams hardly played according to their potential.

tore_s04-bvb

Let’s compare the season of Schalke and Borussia Dortmund by looking at their goal differences (see image). Dortmund had a stronger squad than Schalke, but their season was also full of problems, mostly in the first half. Later, while still playing low quality football, they eventually began earning necessary points, thanks to the team’s individual quality.

Schalke with their success in the reverse, the first half of the season was quite good, plummeting in the second half, especially after the Derby. The royal blues ended up in front of the yellow ones, which was basically a matter of timing. One game day more and it would have been the opposite. In the end, the Dortmund managed to improve after a bad start, which obviously seemed much better than the Schalke situation.

Problems in the Game

For a while Schalke had it going. The system with 5 backs worked fine and opponents were challenged with it beginning with Wolfsburg and a peak at Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16. However, the opponents in the Bundesliga managed to find ways against the 5 backs system and used its faults to their advantage (no wings and focus counter attacks). Thus RDM was forced to change something. And he did; to be precise, early in April against Augsburg.

Schalke switched back to the 4-2-3-1, which is standard in the Bundesliga, but also is the preferred system of Jefferson Farfán, who coincidentally came back at the same time. But where was the plan to score goals? The midfield gap and the lack of ideas in the attacking third became more and more obvious. Schalke tried focusing on wings to cover, but it didn’t take long until opponents also found a plan to defend, first of whom being Mainz. In major trouble, Schalke’s traditional number 10 was missing, a player who was able to distribute balls and have creative ideas in the offensive midfield.

The climax was the game against Stuttgart, were RDM substituted in three of those no 10s. Kevin Prince Boateng one of those players and the savior in the Stuttgart game was then kicked out of the team a week later.

Team-internal troubles

Obviously, the team did not take the challenge „Bundesliga“ seriously anymore as they were viewed to not have a whole lot of commitment or tactical discipline. While there seemed to be something internally wrong (unraveling as a team), from a distance these difficulties could not be understood. Nevertheless, I’d like to challenge the idea of suspending high quality players KPB, Sam and Höger, as it certainly did not help the team’s quality improve.

The big Cut

Despite the terrible timing, switching the coach seemed to make sense. However, as Schalke has been in the middle of a transition phase for quite some time now, I personally can not understand the radical changes in the team that many supporters ask for.
For several years the focus has been on players from the youth and recruiting expensive players only where it makes sense. For example, Schalke bought players for positions that can’t be covered internally (like Choupo-Moting or Szalai) as well as the experienced hero players, to act as role models for the young ones (KPB, but also Santana).

Recently there have been 7 players of the Schalke’s youth teams in the starting XI. Draxler (on the bench) and Goretzka (not from the Schalke youth but still very young) are not even included.

Generally, Schalke desperately needs a systematic shift and an improved concept of how to play football. For years the main goals always were to „stabilize the defence“ and „score more goals“, but these are just symptoms of playing football. Thus, if the basic idea of how to play football is missing then there is a lack in unifying to implement it. And the whole club needs to be aware that it takes time, to device such a thing.

Exceptions & Excuses

One of the very few players that consistently delivered was Dennis Aogo. He performed at the very same level basically throughout the whole season – when he was allowed to play. In his final involvement against Paderborn, the team was very insecure, with only 73% of pass success. Aogo played 51 passes and more than 90% of those were successful. Of course he is not the most amazing player in the world, but in a season that lacks consistency, Aogo and Fährmann (obviously) were major exceptions. This included Matija Nastasic, who came during the winter break. He was immediately a vital part of the team and I look forward to seeing his future development.

Schalke had the highest amount of injuries this last season and it is often talked about. However, its not new. And nevertheless it is no excuse for a weak league like the Bundesliga this season. If Bayern cannot win against a team twice, the team should be able to qualify for the Champions League. But if they cannot win against Hamburg, something is clearly very wrong. The Schalke squad’s quality is simply too strong, even the second line up.

Despite this terrible final phase, only 4 teams had less goals than Schalke. Indicating that apparently stabilizing the defence worked – at least a little bit.

Conclusion

Schalke sacked the coach because there was no development of the players or the general game. The new coach manages did that, but couldn’t make it persistent and eventually the team fell apart. A number 10 was missing, a wire puller, creative player and ball distributor – at the least. Moreover, a general idea of how to play football continues to be needed if to develope. Roberto Di Matteo basically failed trying to do that. Utilizing 3 centre backs was an interesting experiment, and very successful for some time, but did not work out in the long run.

André Breitenreiter is the new head coach now and gets to work on all this. He has the full summer break to prepare and start putting a team together. Other teams are a couple of steps ahead, and already bought the players they need or want.

Well, Schalke never has great timing. I sincerely hope Breitenreiter will be granted some time and won’t be judged too early. So let’s keep our cool.

Karsten

Karsten ist auf Kohle geboren, in Europas weltschönstem Herten nämlich, der Stadt, die mal die höchste Fördermenge in Europa hatte. Aufgewachsen in einer Familie von Püttologen studierte er an der FH Gelsenkirchen irgendwas mit Computern. Später zog es ihn in die Ferne zu den Wikingern, wo ihm erst bewusst wurde, wie viel Ruhrpott in ihm steckt.

Nach hunderten von Herzklabastern, weil der elende Internetstream immer bei blau-weißen Torchancen abbrach, ist er als Doktor Labertasche wieder zurück in der Heimat (mit Dauerkarte in Block 5) und theoretisiert neben der Maloche den König Fußball. Weil aber seine Kumpels schnell davon genervt waren, verlagerte er das Ganze und gründete Halbfeldflanke zum Beginn der Saison 2013/2014.