I rarely write happy stories in my Matchday Reviews. It’s often a story of misery and complaints, often consisting of me wishing teams well in a subtle manner or as subtly trying to give teams and clubs advice on how to improve and climb out of their self-inflicted chaos. While I do enjoy being cynical, this is not one of these times. For what Schalke 94 has done in such short time under Domenico Tedesco is sensational, full stop.
While other clubs struggle with form and identity, often wrestling themselves to strange and odd wins, Schalke continuously prove that they’ve got the winning mentality needed. While I have criticised Domenico Tedesco before, mainly due to his mediocre set-ups, it all seems to have improved and Schalke look a much stronger outfit now than they did back in November. But how?
It always starts at the back, doesn’t it? It’s often been said, many times and many ways, that a good defence is key to success and Tedesco’s current Schalke is no different. He has vastly improved his defence, mainly by deploying and testing rather unorthodox players and choices. For example, who would have guessed that Daniel Caligiuri would become one of the best wing backs in the Bundesliga? Moreover, who would have known that Bastian Oczipka could develop into a competent and excellent centre back? Tedesco likes to try new things out to achieve success. We’ve seen it at Aue and we’ve seen it at Schalke. Max Meyer in a deeper position was a real masterstroke, Amine Harit’s positional conundrum was another. However, now he’s more or less moulded this once so shaky Knappen defence into a capable force, ready to take on any struggling or in form team that is brave enough to throw itself at them.
In the recent GGFN exclusive interview with Franco Di Santo, the Argentinian mentioned Tedesco’s winning mentality as one of his main strengths. I found this very interesting. Winning mentality is not something most would associate Schalke 04 with, nor is it something we associate young managers with. Winning mentality is often developed over time, through experiencing the sweetness of titles as well as the dire bitterness of close defeat. Winning mentality at Schalke has been a real problem for the last fifteen years, but the last few weeks show that it might just be back. Tedesco’s tactical astuteness is one of his biggest assets, but his mentality off and on the field, well, in the dugout, must not be underestimated. His ability to turn a draw into a win through scrappy play and lucky goals must be one of his biggest strengths.
While Schalke face a rather uncertain future, it seems like most things can be conquered if Tedesco is at the helm. When they lose Leon Goretzka, they will replace him with a cheap and possibly enhanced copy of him. If Meyer leaves, they’ll do the same with him. Another of Tedesco’s biggest assets is his ability to see the real attributes of a player, to be able to distinguish his best role on the field and how he can benefit his team the most. He makes it easy to determine a player’s role and can therefore replace his players with similar players on an instant. He knows his own system, he is aware of the players needed and he acts as such. If Schalke lose a few players this summer, their fans should not mourn. Instead, they should look forward to what the future under Tedesco might hold. For, while it might be uncertain, it is in fact brighter than it’s been in years.
The current Schalke is full of belief and winning mentality, it’s full of trust and togetherness. Their coach has transformed a mass of good individuals into a solid and brilliant squad that rows the blue boat together, continuously enjoying the symbiosis that Tedesco has put in place. The players learn from each other, they befriend each other and they help one another. ’One for all, all for one’ seems to be the current Schalke motto. It might seem strange, though, that a team can be totally different to what it was just a few months back, but this is actually very normal. One of my favourite quotes from the BBC series Doctor Who is when Matt Smith’s eleventh doctor is about to regenerate and says: “We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people throughout our lives and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” Schalke has changed. They’ve taken different forms. They’ve been the product of an insecure and juvenile manager in his first stint at a major club. They’ve also been the slightly enhanced version of the former, the one that lured all the hipsters in, the one that managed to concede four goals in 25 minutes at the Westfalenstadion. They’ve been broken at times, they’ve tried to find their way under this young and inexperienced, albeit undoubtedly brilliant manager. But most importantly, they’ve remembered what and who they were and they’ve learned from their mistakes.
This is the current Schalke. A tactically perfect machine. Can they take on Bayern next season? And has there been a proper shift in power in Ruhr? It’s too early to say. We can say one thing for certain though: Tedesco is just warming up.
1 | Just when you think they’re dead and buried, 1. FC Köln go and pull something out of the hat. Sitting bottom of the Bundesliga, it looked as though their time in the top flight may be up but after a derby win against Bayer Leverkusen, Stefan Ruthenbeck’s side now sit just five points behind relegation playoff occupiers, 1. FSV Mainz 05, whom they are still to play.
Even with a depleted squad, FC Köln managed to put two past Champions League chasing Bayer Leverkusen with goals from Yuya Osako and Simon Zoller, both which should have been saved by Bernd Leno.
When it comes to football in Germany, there’s plenty of fierce derbies but this one is certainly up there. Lucky enough to attend the fixture, German Police lined the streets of Köln ready to break up any violence that may occur following the events in the lead up to the Rheinderby. It’s been reported that FC Köln ultras attacked Leverkusen ultras the night before the fixture with police taking details of the people involved.
2 | Dieter Hecking remains in a job following a six-goal thriller at Borussia-Park on Saturday. Julian Nagelsmann certainly went home the disappointed head coach after his TSG 1899 Hoffenheim side took the lead on three occasions, before letting their lead slip to a Matthias Ginter 93rd minute equaliser. Hence a sigh of relief from the home supporters.
3 | The difference between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig was much closer last season compared to the present time. However, Sunday evening saw Ralph Hasenhüttl get one over Jupp Heynckes, who will have to wait a little longer before being crowned Bundesliga champions.
Axel Falk with Daniel Pinder.