Schalke 04 had their best season in years finishing in second place and with a deep run in the DFB Cup. Several of their players had career seasons and their new young coach exceeded every expectation. However the opponents were extremely weak and they lost several player so can they keep it up or will they crumble this season?
2. Bundesliga: 2nd place - 63 points (18W-9D-7L)
DFB Cup: Semifinal - 0:1 loss against Eintracht Frankfurt
On paper Schalke had a strong season, finishing second and exceeding all expectations. Finishing ahead of teams like RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen who were supposedly more talented than them and of course leaving hated rivals Borussia Dortmund behind them was the cherry on top. Relying on a strong defense led by Naldo, Domenico Tedesco’s team surged to second place and back into the Champions League. In the Cup Schalke had a good run until they got defeated by eventual winner Eintracht Frankfurt in the semifinal.
Even though the “royal blues” definitely deserved to finish in second place last season they were arguably helped by the weakness of their opponents. In fact 63 points is the worst points total for a Vizemeister since 2004/05, incidentally also Schalke. BVB had a catastrophic season, Leverkusen an inexperienced squad and RBL just played their first international season with a young team. In addition most of their rivals played in either the Champions or Europa League, Schalke could rest during the week.
- Suat Serdar (CM) - Mainz 05 - 10.50€ million
- Omar Mascarell (CM) - Real Madrid - 10€ million
- Hamza Mendyl (LB) - LOSC Lille - 7€ million
- Salif Sané (CB) - Hannover 96 - 7€ million
- Steven Skrzybski (RW) - Union Berlin - 3.20€ million
- Mark Uth (ST) - TSG Hoffenheim - Free transfer
- Thilo Kehrer (CB) - Paris St. Germain - 37€ million
- Benedikt Höwedes (CB) - Lokomotive Moscow - 5€ million
- Coke (RB) - UD Levante - 1.50€ million
- Leon Goretzka (CM) - Bayern Munich - Free transfer
- Max Meyer (CAM) - Crytsal Palace - Free transfer
- Marko Pjaca (LW) - Juventus - End of loan
Schalke 04 started the transfer window with the pressure of having to replace both Goretzka and Meyer with the added disadvantage that both left on a free transfer. Later on they had to stomach another blow when Kehrer signed for PSG but at least they got 37€ million for him. Pjaca was also a useful player last season who they probably would have liked to keep around. Both Höwedes and Coke had no future at Gelsenkirchen.
Considering Schalke had to replace three young and talented players, their sporting director Christian Heidel, did a relatively good job. For the central midfield they got Mascarell and Serdar, a promising duo. Serdar is a talented player with a lot of upside and Mascarell has been one of the most consistent Bundesliga misfielders for years. Sané for 7€ million to bolster the defense and Uth on a free transfer have also been smart moves. Mendyl and Skrzybski are two wildcards who could go either way.
What to expect in 2018/19
Predicting how good Schalke actually is is incredibly tough. They placed second last season and got far in the DFB Cup but the entire Bundesliga was struggling (except Bayern), Schalke did not play in an international competition and Schalke didn’t exactly play great football. In addition they lost three important players and their best player last season is a now 35-year old centerback who will be asked to perform on the same level but with the added pressure of mid-week games.
Schalke will actually need to improve if they want to compete for second ppace again because it’s unlikely Dortmund will have a similarly catastrophic season and Leverkusen have improved. That’s a tall order for a team that has still some question marks on the roster. Just like BVB their fullback situation is questionable and they also lack creative players on offense an area that was already a problem last season. Surprisingly Schalke did not improve their situation at the winger position.
Thanks to Tedesco’s tactics and solid players on defense and midfield they will probably once again field a tough defense to crack but their offense still has problems. Creating chances was already a problem when they relied heavily on Harit to shoulder the load. Even though Tedesco vowed to address their problems on offense this offseason, however during friendlies and the first round of the DFB Cup they still struggled in that regard.
Prediction: Battle for top 4
Schalke will finish in the top 6 that much I’m sure of but a Champions League spot is far from guaranteed for our rivals. Goretzka and Kehrer are heavy losses and they can’t realistically expect Naldo to play a similar season at soon to be 36 years old. They will need their new signings to immediately produce and their young players like McKennie and Harit to take the next step. The additional Champions League games will also test how good their roster actually is. In the end the “royal blues” should be satisfied if they get back into the top 4.