A mix of poor results, a lack of management and COVID-19 saw Schalke 04 relegated to the 2. Bundesliga after an absolutely abysmal 2020/21 season. The Royal Blues managed to collect only 16 points through the entire season - the lowest point collection for any bottom team since Wuppertaler SV in the 1974/75 season (14).
Now let me get this straight. The relegation was absolutely deserved. Wasteful transfers and internal scandals had plagued to club through multiple seasons up until the relegation, and when COVID-19 began to influence the daily operations of football clubs in Germany, Schalke simply weren’t in a position to deal with the financial burden, which quickly reflected onto the on-pitch performances as well.
Now - for some fans of Borussia Dortmund, this might have sparked grins and laughter. Seeing your rivals implode is something that’s theoretically satisfying, but when reality struck following Schalke’s 1-0 defeat to Arminia Bielefeld on matchday 30 of the 2020/21 season, my immediate emotional reaction was sadness. Because Schalke playing in the 2. Bundesliga means that we would miss the most iconic derby in Germany - The Revierderby.
But now our bitter rival is back! After winning the 2. Bundesliga with 65 points over Werder Bremen (63). So now that The Smurfs are back in the Bundesliga, what can we expect from them in terms of their overall performance throughout the season, and what can we expect from the two matches against them, which many fans consider even more important than the ones against Bayern.
Which Players Should We Be Looking Out For?
It’s no secret that Schalke don’t have the funds they used to have. One of the most glaring reasons for this, is the fact that The Royal Blues terminated their sponsorship deal with their long time partner Gazprom as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even though the club has been compensated by the DFB, it’s still quite a big loss in terms of revenue. The media deals in the 2. Bundesliga are also worth a lot less, and when money from sponsors and media are the two most prolific income sources for any modern football club, you might be able to figure out which financial position this puts Schalke in.
With approximately one month remaining in the transfer window, our blue rivals have actually managed to do some quite good business with their limited funds, and they have also succeeded in keeping basically every key player from their stint in the 2. Bundesliga.
Let's take a look at some of their most prolific players.
It would be no understatement to claim that this man almost single-handedly carried The Smurfs back into the Bundesliga on his now 34-year old back. The tall German striker bagged 30 goals and 4 assists in 30 appearances for The Royal Blues last season.
Terodde has been a solid stable in the 2. Bundesliga for a long time, and he used to be first-choice striker for iconic German clubs such as FC Köln and Union Berlin. In the 2. Bundesliga he has averaged a goal every 129th minute over the course of 283 appearances, which is obviously very impressive.
Terodde has played for both Duisburg, Köln and Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, managing 58 appearances with 10 goals and 2 assists to follow. Not as impressive as his 2. Bundesliga numbers, but maybe that won't matter as he seemed to unlock his potential with The Smurfs last year. I honestly won't be surprised to find Terodde on the top scorer list for next season, and when we meet, our starting CB's will surely have their work cut out for them.
The talented Moroccan returns to Gelsenkirchen after a loan spell at Marseille which saw him collect 5 goals and 5 assists over the course of 23 matches.
Harit showed a lot of promise when The Smurfs played in the Bundesliga, and although he's now 25 years old, he's a good shout for Schalke's most important player for the upcoming season - that is if they manage to keep him around, because look at these stats.
These statistics were accumulated over the course of 15 matches last season, so you should take them with at least a tiny grain of salt. With that said, it is hard to deny that this seems quite impressive. Being in 89th percentile for progressive carries, while simultaneously being in the upper half of other key stats such as progressive passes, paints a picture of a very talented player. It also portrays a player with good dribbling skills, a decent work rate and an eye for a tackle.
Harit is bound to be a key player for Schalke if they manage to keep him, and from his past stints in the Bundesliga, I only remember him as a very proactive and skillful player - though with some Julian Brandt-esque inconsistency problems. If Harit can find his feet at the German veteran club this season, him and Terodde might be able to guide Schalke to a decent spot in the Bundesliga table.
This name may sound familiar to you (and especially to a specific writer on FTW). While Schalke's offense was at full throttle last season, they had some defensive issues, allowing 44 goals against them through 34 matchdays. A backline featuring the promising young defender Malik Thiaw and former Stuttgart defender Marcin Kaminski did the best they could, and while Japanese loanee Ko Itakura performed well, he didn't have his buy option triggered due to Schalke’s financial situation. So what do you when you lose one Japanese international player? You obviously get another one for free!
Without the renewal of experienced defender Salif Sané's contract, Schalke were in dire need for a player with leadership skills to guide their backline to success for the upcoming season. Enter Maya Yoshida. The Japanese veteran has captained the Japanese national team since 2016, and he has also captained Premier League side Southampton for multiple stretches through his eight years at the club.
The 33-year old Japanese will without a doubt play an important role on and off the pitch for the Royal Blues, and although he's not the most flashy signing, he's certainly a smart one.
Other Important Players
Our rivals have also recruited long time Bundesliga goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow, who has been between the sticks for both Freiburg and Hertha Berlin. Having an experienced Bundesliga keeper is of course a big plus, but Schwolow will no doubt have to perform consistently throughout the season in order for Schalke to secure survival in the Bundesliga.
Midfielders Alex Kral (Czech Republic) and Rodrigo Zalazar (Uruguay) are both two relatively young midfielders with great potential. Kral has been turning out for Spartak Moscow, and has (for obvious reasons) transferred out of Russia. He had a not-so-successful loan spell at West Ham, but he's still a player of good quality. Even though Zalazar didn't put up amazing numbers for Schalke last year, he is still considered a talent. He has a very strong work rate and is very good with his feet. He got 7 goals and 6 assists in 30 appearances last season - not exactly good, but not exactly bad either.
But What About Their Coach?
Even though interim manager Mike Büskens obviously did a good job last season, the Schalke board decided to bring in a manager with some Bundesliga experience, and for this upcoming season, they’ve hired Frank Kramer. He was the man in charge at Arminia Bielefeld in the 2020/21 season. Kramer secured another stay in the Bundesliga in that particular season, which is quite impressive for a club the size of Bielefeld.
Kramer has been in charge of various youth teams before coaching Bielefeld. He has been U18, U19 and U20 coach for the German national team, and he has been academy manager at the prolific RB Salzburg academy. Mike Büskens will act as assistant coach, and together, the two of them are tasked with rebuilding Schalke.
Kramer’s experience with young players will certainly come in handy in Gelsenkirchen, as they still have one of the best youth academies in Germany, The Knappenschmiede. And with limited funds, we’ll probably see Schalke bet on their academy to produce some players who can help them in their rebuild.
What Should We Expect From Schalke This Season?
The Smurfs surely have the tools to be able to survive in the Bundesliga, but so does the other relegation candidates. Currently I see Augsburg and Hertha BSC as the most obvious candidates for direct relegation. The candidates for the playoff spot will probably be Schlake and Bochum.
Our neighbours from Bochum impressed last year, but they’ve lost the talented defender Armel Bella-Kotchap to Southampton. Their top scorer from last season, Sebastian Polter, has ironically left to join The Smurfs, so they’ll have to bet on other goal scoring sources for this season. The only notable departure for Schalke is Ozan Kabak. The Turkish defender was long considered a huge talent, but after a couple of unsuccessful loan spells at Liverpool and Norwich, he has now transferred to Hoffenheim. Even though Kabak is a good player, The Smurfs haven’t fielded him in more than a season, so I don’t think it’s a transfer that’ll effect the team much.
And that’s why I do believe Schalke has a decent chance to stay in the Bundesliga beyond this season. You almost forget that they have the second biggest fanclub in Germany. Schalke is without a doubt one of the proudest clubs in the whole country, and the fans will no doubt spur them on week after week at The Veltins-Arena, which is now the fourth largest stadium in the league in terms of capacity (62.271).
What Should We Expect From This Year’s Revierderby?
Should we expect to win both matches against our blue rivals? The easy answer is yes. There’s a huge gap in quality between the two sides, but as we all know, Revierderbies are an isolated matter. Of all the 98 Revierderbies so far, Dortmund has 36 wins, while The Royal Blues have 32.
No matter the state of the squad, we can expect Schalke to be fired up, as it will be their most important games of the season, opponent-wise. I’ve now been missing this game for a year, and I’m so happy that it’s back. A popular saying in the rivaling cities is, that if you win the derby, you win the league, and I think this shows the gravity of this matchup perfectly.
Like them or hate them - Schalke is back. So get your Biers and Bratwursts ready, because on matchday 7, we’ll once again clash with our lifelong rivals in the Westfalenstadion!
How do you think Schalke will fare in the Bundesliga this season? And what do you expect from the games? Let me know in the comments below, as I’m eager to read your opinions!