ATTENTION Schalke fans: reading about your club’s exploits may cause severe headaches, migraines, digestive pain, high levels of cynicism and/or nihilism, stomach ulcers, and excessive hair-pulling. If exposed to intense levels of Schalke football for more than four hours, please consult medical professionals immediately. Do not watch Schalke if you are prone to high blood pressure, compulsions of extensive helplessness, or a desire to win trophies of any kind.
With that out of the way, let’s begin our preview:
Bundesliga: 14th Place (8-9-17)
DFB-Pokal: Quarterfinal (2-0 defeat vs. Werder Bremen)
UEFA Champions League: Rd. of 16 (7-0 Agg. vs Manchester City)
If I could hyperlink to one YouTube clip of a famous scene from a 90s classic film that would accurately describe Schalke’s Bundesliga season, it would be this one.
A year after finishing second place in the Bundesliga, Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke completely collapsed. The Smurfs’ season began with five defeats in a row and never drastically improved. Despite making it reasonably far in the Champions League and the DFB-Pokal, Schalke were fighting relegation in the Bundesliga. After going seven matches without a victory and being steamrolled by Manchester City in the Round of 16 in the Champions League, Schalke’s upper management fired Domenico Tedesco and appointed Huub Stevens as interim manager.
Despite being an unmitigated dumpster fire of a club throughout the entire season, Schalke still found a way to be a pain in the ass to Borussia Dortmund. The sole highlight of Schalke’s 2018-19 season was a 4-2 victory in the Rückrunde Revierderby a victory which helped complete BVB’s second-season collapse, and ultimately helped Bayern Munich win the title. (Sidenote: buy your DVDs now, while supplies last!)
In the end, Schalke cobbled together enough points to avoid relegation, finishing 14th out of 18 in the Bundesliga. Lucky us.
Ozan Kabak - €15 Million
Benito Raman - €13 Million
Bernard Tekpetey - €2.5 Million
Markus Schubert - Free Transfer
Jonjoe Kenny - Loan
Breel Embolo - €10 Million
Ralf Fährman - Loan
Sebastian Rudy - Loan
In desperate need of a drastic squad overhaul, Schalke went out and did... the exact opposite. They sold attacker Breel Embolo, a young and promising forward with a decent offensive record, to Borussia Mönchengladbach for €10 million. In return, Schalke spent €15 million on Ozan Kabak, a promising 19-year old central defender, from Stuttgart. Schalke’s other main signing was €13 million for Benito Raman, a 24-year-old winger who led Fortuna Düsseldorf with 10 goals last season.
These two arrivals are certainly going to help Schalke, but they won’t radically transform the squad into the Champions League contender that it’s consistently been for years. Arguably the most significant addition to Schalke is that of David Wagner, a former Borussia Dortmund II manager. Wagner’s record as a manager is actually fairly impressive. After managing BVB II until 2015, Wagner was appointed to be the manager of Huddersfield Town of the EFL Championship, where he secured promotion to the Premier League in 2017.
Make no mistakes: this was impressive an impressive feat. As an avid EPL fan I can definitively say that the Huddersfield Town squad that Wagner coached was one of the least talented I’ve ever seen, which is why Wagner keeping them in the League through 2018 was all the more impressive. Eventually the bottom fell out, though. Last season, Huddersfield were last in the EPL by a significant margin, and Wagner stepped down by January.
Wagner specialized in running a compact, defensive system against the Premier League’s giants and a more fluid, counter-pressing 4-2-3-1 of the type that he learned with BVB in the early 2010s. It was a system that relied on a competent cadre of defenders and holding midfielders to move the ball through the center of the pitch before moving the ball out wide to attacking fullbacks. As I’ll discuss in the next section, this is a system that could potentially pay dividends for Schalke.
What to Expect in 2019/20
The question that Schalke will face next season, and that will ultimately decide whether they can emerge from the Bundesliga’s basement, is the same that has plagued Schalke for years: where will the goals come from? Schalke only scored 37 goals last season, the lowest total of any club that wasn’t relegated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Schalke have done much to address this issue. Benito Raman may chip in a few goals here or there, but isn’t going to singlehandedly tip the scale in either direction. Any increase in offensive prowess will have to come from David Wagner’s system.
Schalke actually boasts some pretty decent players on the back end. Salif Sané is one of the better central defenders in the Bundesliga, and one of the best at winning aerial duels. Matija Nastasic is in his prime and is defintely above average for the league. Weston McKennie provides could coverage and ball progression in midfield, and looks ready to take another step forward this year.
If Schalke are going to be successful this season, they’ll have to play an ultra-tight defensive system that takes advantages of their squad strengths. David Wagner has experience implementing such systems at Huddersfield, and Schalke certainly have the personnel. It will be a risky strategy, though, that will require quite a lot of 1-0 victories.
2019/20 Season Prediction
I’m not gonna lie, I’m in a bit of a pickle with this prediction. Schalke probably won’t be relegated; I think they have a strong-enough defense to stay just out of the bottom bin of the Bundesliga, and David Wagner is too competent a manager. Even if their offense looks to be hot garbage once again, they can’t possibly be worse than the likes of Paderborn or Köln. However, Schalke could be relegated if things go catastrophically wrong again. Even if the probability is only 10% that they actually do get relegated, should I predict it, just for the #banter?
If you’ve read my material on this site long enough, you already know the answer.
Prediction: 16th (lose in the relegation playoff to Hamburg)