It all looked so positive for Schalke under David Wagner with just over one third of the season played. Matchday thirteen’s 2-1 win at home to Union Berlin put the Königsblauen third in the table and by the time the Winterpause arrived they were nestled comfortably in fifth- level on points with Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund. A win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first game back gave no indication of the crash that was about to occur.
Fast-forward to the end of the season and Schalke had slumped to 12th on the back of the club’s worst-ever winless run and had the season gone on any longer they would have been a genuine contender for relegation.
How did Schalke go from having serious ambitions of European football to performing worse than the sides, who were ultimately relegated?
That is a question the coach, the players and the club’s bosses are going to have to work through. Schalke won 30 points from their 17 matches in the Hinrunde giving them a 1.76 points per game average and scored an average of 1.7 goals per game. These figures dropped dramatically in the Rückrunde with only 9 points won (0.5 points per game) and nine goals scored (0.5 per game).
Rarely has there been such a collapse witnessed by any side in the Bundesliga. Injuries did play their part especially after the corona virus restart with David Wagner having to cope without ten first-team players at one stage. The season was cut short for Omar Mascarell, Suat Serdar, Salif Sané, Matija Nastasic, Benjamin Stambouli, and Amine Harit amongst others, forcing the coach to fill his squad with young inexperienced players.
But injuries alone cannot explain the abject run of 16 games without a win. After the corona virus re-start the club lost seven of its nine matches including hapless defeats to relegation candidates Augsburg, Werder Bremen, and Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The season to forget was also bookended by controversy surrounding club Chairman Clemens Tönnies. Racist remarks prior to the season saw him suspended from the board for three months and his unpopular return was made all the more unpopular when a renewed Covid-19 outbreak occurred at one of his meat processing plants. Pressure grew and the much-maligned boss eventually stepped down.
The 2019/20 season will be characterised by the Rückrunde collapse, Clemens Tönnies controversial presence as the club’s boss, and the financial crisis that has seen the club’s €200 million debt force them to drastically reduce their ambitions and contemplate selling their prized assets.
Poor on the pitch, poor off the pitch- all in all a season every Schalke 04 supporter will want to forget very quickly. The problem is though, it could get worse before it gets better.
It might be hard to remember, but there were some moments for Schalke fans to cheer about. The start of the season saw a four-match spell that brought four consecutive wins. Hertha Belin were beaten 3-0 which was followed by a 5-1 hammering of Paderborn. Mainz were dispatched 2-1 and then came the hugely impressive 3-1 victory away at RB Leipzig.
The first game back after the Winterpause saw a good win achieved against Borussia Mönchengladbach- a side seen as genuine contenders for the top four.
Suat Serdar’s performances in the Hinrunde earned him a call-up to the Nationalmannschaft and he made his first appearances for Joachim Löw’s side in the friendly against Argentina and in the European Nations qualifiers.
Can we say the entire Rückrunde? The 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena was the start of the slump, but few could have predicted that is would last the entire second half of the season.
Each game after the corona virus lockdown seemed to bring a new low point. The 4-0 defeat to Dortmund in the Geisterspiel Revierderby showed a massive gulf between the two sides with BVB looking like it was a training match for them in the second half. The home defeat to Augsburg in the next game was just an embarrassment.
Aside from the winless streak, the whole debacle surrounding goalkeeper Alexander Nübel was also a low for the club. The newly installed captain’s announcement that he was jumping ship to join Bayern was huge blow, but then the decision to throw Markus Schubert in as the new number one backfired with the youngster producing a number of dodgy displays.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 9-12-13, 39 points (1.15 per game), 12th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 22 points (5-7-5) Away Record: 17 points (4-5-8)
Goals: 38 (1.12 per game), Goals Against: 58 (1.71 per game), Diff: -20
xG: 36.3, xGA: 50.8, Diff: -14.5
Take away Amine Harit and the goals of Suat Serdar and you don’t have an attack at Schalke. They scored 29 goals in the Hinrunde, but a paltry nine in the Rückrunde giving them 38 goals for the season (average 1.12 per game).
Schalke ranked third bottom in the Bundesliga for total shots (383) and fourth bottom for percentage of shots on target (32.1%). Guido Burgstaller failed to score during his 21 appearances (13 as a starter), while loanee Michael Gregoritsch scored just once (he bagged 13 in the 2017/18 season). Ahmed Kutucu was forced to accept a place on the bench for the majority of the season but scored three times.
There is little wonder goals were hard to come by with the club ranking fourth bottom in the league for goal creating actions per 90mins (1.82).
Schalke conceded 58 goals (average 1.71 per game). The goalkeeping issue was a major distraction this season with Markus Schubert (a free transfer from Dynamo Dresden in the summer) thrust into the number one jersey after Alexander Nübel announced his defection to Bayern. Blunders and poor displays led to David Wagner recalling the black sheep, only for the problems to continue. Nübel conceded an average of 1.56 goals per game, whereas with Schubert it rose to 2.18.
Ozan Kabak and Salif Sané would have been the regular first-choice centre back pairing but both suffered injuries during the season. Kabak impressed and led the team for tackles in the defensive third as well as clearances. Bastian Oczipka at left back and Kenny at right back was the preferred line-up from trainer David Wagner.
At various points though Jean-Clair Todibo, Benjamin Stambouli, Juan Miranda and even Weston McKennie were needed at the back.
On paper the Schalke midfield was more than capable of competing this season. Weston McKennie carried the side at times and was like a fireman rushing around trying to put out a number of fires simultaneously in the Rückrunde. It now looks like he will be on his way out of the club with the Premier League his destination.
Omar Mascarell’s loss to a torn adductor muscle was a blow as his passing accuracy (86.2%) was sorely missed as were his tackles in the midfield third. He led the team across the season despite missing a chunk of matches.
Amine Harit and Daniel Caligiuri both had 86 shot creating actions this season to lead the team, but compared to the rest of the league, Schalke were poor in this department. Suat Serdar contributed seven goals to finish as the club’s top scorer.
Injuries at the tail end of the season allowed/ forced David Wagner to blood youngster Can Bozdogan, Jonas Hofmann, Levent Mercan and Nassim Boujellab into the Königsblauen midfield. Prepare to see a lot more of them next season.
The signing of centre back Ozan Kabak from VfB Stuttgart can be considered a success. The Turkish defender was one of the few Schalke players to emerge from the season with their reputation enhanced and David Wagner will look to build his defence around him next season and hope that he and Salif Sané can stay injury free.
Benito Raman came in for €6.5 million from Fortuna Düsseldorf and scored four goals with three assists in his 25 appearances (19 starts). He showed promise on the left of the attack, but ankle problems in the Hinrunde didn’t help, nor did being fielded out of position as a wing back or central midfielder.
Bernard Tekpety was signed, but then loaned out to Düsseldorf. Of the loan signings to arrive, full back Jonjoe Kenny was the stand-out success story. Schalke would dearly have loved to keep the Englishman after he claimed the right back berth as his own. However, his future looks to be back with parent club Everton.
Jean-Clair Todibo did okay when called upon (although struggled to make friends with Erling Haaland), while Juan Miranda only made 8 starts. The loan of Michael Gregoritsch didn’t pay off though. He was a pale shadow of his former self and scored just once in his 14 appearances.
Player of the Season
In a sea of mediocrity, defender Ozan Kabak stood out and offers at least a glimmer of hope for Schalke.
Injury problems kept him out of the side until early November, but he made an instant impact scoring in successive games against Augsburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf. Aged just 20, he has already shown that he can be the cornerstone of the Schalke backline. Even in the midst of their nightmare season, he contributed three goals and won over 70% of his duels.
Werder Bremen survived relegation by the skin of their teeth, but Florian Kohfeldt’s side won eight more points than Schalke in the Rückrunde. The Königsblauen can thank their lucky stars that they picked up sufficient points in the first half of the campaign. Otherwise it might have been them struggling to bypass Heidenheim in the play-off or even worse joining Paderborn in the 2. Bundesliga.
A season to forget yes, but one from which serious lessons need to be learned.
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