Massive Return PostBy: Shane | October 22nd, 2010
Sorry for the long lack of posts. Work has been crushing me lately. Itâ€™s hard to put something together when youâ€™re working 7:30am to 8:30pm everyday. Iâ€™ve barely had time to watch the matches. To make up for it here is a gi-normous post to hit the highlights of the things Iâ€™ve missed since the Benfica Preview:
The 2-0 home win over Benfica: This seemed like it would be the turning point in the season. We did not look amazing, but we looked like we did last year: strong defense, clinical finishing, physical play. The fact we finally kept a clean sheet and beat a quality opponent was big. I remember thinking after the game â€śwe have a lot of easy games coming up and I think we go on a run here and rattle off a couple wins in a row.â€ť Well, that didnâ€™t happen of course (more on that below). This was the night of Papadoupolos. Itâ€™s rare you see anyone land ~5 perfectly timed slide tackles and a bunch of blocked shots in a single match. He completely dominated the game defensively and saved Metzelder on several occasions. For a player who hadnâ€™t shown to this point why he was a starter in the Greek League at age 15, he suddenly took center stage.
The 2-1 loss to Nurnberg: Ugh, the Hamburg loss 2.0. What an awful script. Tight 0-0 game, silly/questionable 2nd yellow card, instantly down 1-0 only to battle back, equalize late and then somehow concede again to lose 2-1. A lot of Schalke fans raged about the refereeing after this one and how refs must be out to get us after all the red cards weâ€™ve had. Yea, some have been ridiculous like the Howedes card in Lyon, but most have been justified. The Jones 2nd yellow here was not a good call. He tried to pull out of that challenge. He has a right to go for the ball, he does nothing malicious and clearly tries to pull his legs out of the slide when he realizes he is beaten. The home Nurnberg crowd, players causing a big stink about it and the keeper being miraculously injured are what drew the yellow. This whole game was a massive stomach punch. Just as Schalke fans felt a break through was coming, this happened. We also saw Papadoupolos have a poor performance right after his man of the match display a few days prior, which basically summed up the whole roster at Schalke this year: wildly inconsistent from one game to the next.
International Break: Simply a bizarre break for Schalke players. Farfan was arrested while in Peru for, apparently, not making child welfare payments to his ex-girlfriend who he impregnated. This caused him to get back to Germany late and not be available for the Stuttgart match. Matip contracted malaria or some other virus while playing for Cameroon and was briefly hospitalized. Rakitic took a kick to the face while playing for Croatia that dislodged 2 teeth and gave him a minor concussion that kept him out of Stuttgart. Even when he came on as a sub against Hapoel on Wednesday his face looked messed up like his entire mouth area was swollen. Fortunately, that didnâ€™t stop him from playing well very well and setting up a goal.
Neuer began hinting at a move to a bigger club after this season (cough Manchester United or Bayern). For realistic Schalke fans this is not a surprise. He has 2 years left on his contract. If we had a great season maybe we could convince a new deal, but if we didnâ€™t light it up I fully expected him to move on this summer and I wouldnâ€™t begrudge him. Well, here we are tied for 2nd to last place so Iâ€™m not surprised heâ€™s already starting to put the feelers out for a move. He has essentially said if Schalke is not in Champions League next year then heâ€™s out. If no extension can be done by this summer then he must be sold. We need the money and if we donâ€™t sell he goes on a free a year later. Letâ€™s just hope he doesnâ€™t go to Bayern. Not sure I could handle that.
2-2 Draw with Stuttgart at home: A battle of the most underperforming, supposedly good teams. We were lucky to get the draw. Stuttgart had a perfectly good goal ruled off-side in the first half that would have made it 2-0. Yea, we recovered from that deficit against Monchengladbach before, but being down 2-0 at home with a psychologically fragile team and fanbase a 2nd time seems unlikely. Then we got a pretty fortunate penalty decision in the 2nd half. I wouldnâ€™t say we looked bad, itâ€™s just Stuttgart made us pay when given chances and we didnâ€™t do the same. We still have yet to record a home win in the Bundesliga. I donâ€™t want to act like some prophet, but when I saw Stuttgart fire Gross before the match I knew we wouldnâ€™t win. It just is a general rule that in the match after a team fires their coach they always do well. It makes sense because the players want to impress the new manager so they try extra hard whereas with the old manager they probably wanted him gone anyways so they werenâ€™t trying as much. I was hoping Stuttgart would hang onto Gross for 1 more match, damn!
After this the media began stirring the pot about Magathâ€™s job being in jeopardy. Chairman Tonnies said he was not in any jeopardy. Felix Magath had this to say: â€śI am not leaving Schalke. I will not leave before we have won a title.â€ť Now, let me ask you the big question: When you read that statement is your first reaction â€śPhew!â€ť or is it a bunch of mixed feelings? Iâ€™m still in â€śPhewâ€ť mode. Iâ€™ve been highly critical of his summer transfers (namely in defense) and a lot of his roster and substitution choices, but he remains one of the best coaches in the league. This summer he was regarded as the best. Now of course Tuchel and Klopp are giving him a run for his money. We need to be patient. We can still turn this around. Keep the faith going.
3:0 over Hapoel Tel-Aviv: Very interesting strategy in this match from Magath, which the English announcers covering the game did not pick up on. Magath purposely let Hapoel get the majority of the possession and intended to play on the counter using Jurado to feed Raul and Huntelaar. It worked to perfection. People watching this match mightâ€™ve thought â€śSchalke is crap. They are being outplayed by this nobody Israeli squad and only won because of some good finishing.â€ť But really this was our intention all along and our finishing wasnâ€™t even that good. Jurado set Huntelaar and Farfan up with break away sitters and both of them bungled it, so the scoreline couldnâ€™t been larger. Now, letâ€™s not get too excited because Hapoel is probably equivalent skill-wise to a midtable BL II side. Any win in the CL though, and especially by 3 goals, is fine by me. This puts us on 6 points and thanks to Lyon beating Benfica we are now 3 points clear in 2nd place and have the current tie breaker. We can discuss the semantics of the CL standings another time, but youâ€™d have to say we have a very good shot at progressing to the knock-outs right now.
Tactically, what we did here is what we should do in all matches. Weâ€™re bottom of the league. Teams do not play us scared. They play us intending to win whether it is home or away. Play like we did last year and soak up the pressure. Then use Jurado, the brilliant play-maker, to feed Huntelaar/Raul( and to some extent Farfan) who are great finishers. The weakness is that our defense remains questionable. Schmitz is simply not that good. He has strong, raw physical talent but a weak mind, always has bad positioning and game sense. Uchida is probably 1-2 years away from being a very good fullback. Metzelder is Metzelder. Howedes canâ€™t do it all by himself.
The headlines for this match were all Raul because of his brace and tying Gerd Mullerâ€™s European scoring record and I will say Raul had two excellent finishes. Iâ€™ve been critical of him so far this season, but at least now heâ€™s scoring goals, with 3 recently. The real man of the match was Jurado. This guy is the engine of our entire attack. He crafts almost all of our goal scoring chances now. Without his creativity and inspiration we are clueless up front. If you asked me who the player is that we cannot afford to lose I would unquestionably say Jurado. He has no replacement that is even remotely near his level (Baumjohann? Ugh, no. Until Holtby returns we are dependent on Jurado).
Magath has some weaknesses as a coach, one of the major ones is that he is not a genius at attacking football and how to tactically set up goals. Where he has had success is when an intelligent central play-maker has been on his team that could take over this burden for him and be the spark for the attack. This was Misimovic at Wolfsburg and for Schalke it must be Jurado.
Lewis Holtby will definitely return from loan after this season at Mainz. The central midfield play-maker has been crushing the league this season. He leads the BL in assists, has also bagged a couple goals and has been instrumental in Mainz going 7 wins in a row to start the year. Jogi Loew had this to say about Holtbyâ€™s incredible, pin-point through ball pass to Szalai against Hoffenheim â€śThe Holtby pass alone was worth the price of admission today.â€ť If you had to do an MVP of the season so far Holtby would win it (Kagawa in 2nd).
Knasmullner, who is a rising star at Bayern Munich says if things donâ€™t pan out with Bayern his dream would be to play at Schalke 04. Heâ€™s a winger, Austrian international, still a teenager and plays on the Bayern II squad. You can draw parallels between him and Bayernâ€™s other major teenage prospect, David Alaba (both are Austrian midfielders). Will anything ever come of this? Probably not, but itâ€™s nice to know some of the rising youngster talent out there views Schalke as a great place to play.
Upcoming Frankfurt match:
Sorry I just donâ€™t have time to do an in-depth preview. I will thoroughly analyze the game on Sunday though. Again, like in many recent weeks the Schalke match is not being televised in the US. I am a huge fan of the Schalke 04 online TV service that you can get through the official site. I really donâ€™t mind coughing up a bit of money so I can watch every single match, including highlights and player/coach interviews. The stream is good quality and posted very soon after the match concludes. Definitely would recommend it. Otherwise youâ€™re stuck searching the web for a random stream that might infect your computer with a virus, have terrible picture quality and go down for no reason.
The main casualty for the roster against Frankfurt is Kluge who is out with food poisoning. Not to insinuate anything against Kluge who is one of the biggest gladiators on our team, but in general:
Is food poisoning not the biggest excuse used for some different illness, family issue or other cover up? Iâ€™m pretty sure everyone has used the â€śI have food poisoningâ€ť excuse once in their lifetime to take a day of work off. Did you actually have food poisoning? Heck no, you just wanted to go to the beach. Maybe Iâ€™m an anomaly, but I have never in my life gotten food poisoning. I assume anyone who actually does get food poisoning is eating at a China Buffet or is rummaging for week old fish in a restaurant dumpster. I had someone at work call in sick with â€śfood poisoningâ€ť and I almost told them bullshit right into the phone. Then I remembered we have a Human Resources department.