By Dave Hornby
12/13 Season Performance – A Story Of Inconsistency
The Royal Blues will be looking to build upon a somewhat erratic performance last season as they prepare for the start of the new Bundesliga campaign. Despite finishing 4th and securing Champions League football for a 2nd successive season, Schalke went on a poor run mid-season which resulted in the sacking of Huub Stevens who was replaced with current manager Jens Keller.
Schalke made a great start to the 12/13 campaign, suffering just 1 defeat in their opening 9 League games, however this was followed by just 2 victories in their next 13 games. A late resurgence saw them win an impressive 8 games out of the final 12 fixtures to see off competition from surprise packages Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt for the final Champions League place.
Assuming that they manage to progress through the qualifying rounds, the team from Gelsenkirchen will be looking to build on their strong showing in last year’s elite European Competition where they finished top of their group without defeat before going out in the Round of 16.
Current Squad – Strengthening Whilst Cutting The Deadwood
Although not quite at the standard of Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen lead the chasing pack in the Bundesliga. The Schalke team is blessed with an array of talent, which blends experience with youth in the fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation. Captain Benedikt Howedes is the key man in the centre of defence, often playing beside either youngsters Joel Matip or Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
Roman Neustadter and veteran USA International Jermain Jones play the holding midfield roles to provide both defensive cover and the catalyst for attacks. Peruvian winger Jefferson Farfan and German starlet Julian Draxler provide pace, creativity, assists and goals from the wings, with Dutch forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar playing the lone striker role to often devastating effect.
It’s been a relatively busy summer at the Veltins Arena from a transfer perspective with a number of players both joining and leaving the club. After scoring 13 League goals and impressing at Mainz, Adam Szalai has been brought in to provide competition for Huntelaar up front, whilst Brazilian defender Felipe Santana, who scored the winning goal in the Champions League against Malaga, has made the switch from local rivals Dortmund.
The squad has also been boosted with two young signings from the German second division in the form of Christian Clemens from FC Koln and Leon Goretzka from Bochum, who is regarded as one of the brightest talents in German football and has been labelled ‘the next Mario Gotze’ .
Keller has taken the opportunity to let go of a few fringe members of the team, with Ciprian Marica, Sergio Escudero, Christoph Moritz and Jose Manuel Jurado all being shown the exit. They are followed by Michel Bastos, Ibrahim Afellay and Raffael who all spent last season on loan at Schalke, along with former German international defender Christoph Metzelder who has decided to retire from football.
Despite rumours of an exit to the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid, 19 year old German International Draxler has confirmed that he wants to stay at Schalke having recently signed a contract that runs to 2018. Things might not be as certain for talented centre back Papadopoulos though – the Greek defender has been the subject of intense interest from Liverpool, with reports suggesting that he could leave Schalke for a fee of around £12m.
13/14 Season Kick-off – Continuing Pre-Season Form
Confidence will be high at the Veltins Arena after an impressive pre-season in which Schalke have recorded 5 wins, 1 draw and just 1 defeat. This has included a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Southampton and a 9-0 win over Al-Sadd in a game which saw former striker Raul play 45 minutes for both his current and former club.
In total, the team have found the back of the net 27 times and conceded just 5 goals during their emphatic pre-season form. Schalke start their new Bundesliga season with an opening fixture at home to Hamburg, followed by away games at Wolfsburg and Hannover – 3 fixtures that Keller will be targeting maximum points in if he aims to build upon last season’s performance and challenge for the title.
Only time will tell whether the Royal Blues can catch Bayern and Dortmund domestically whilst going further in the Champions League.
Whatever happens, it looks set to be an exciting season at Schalke.