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Bundesliga Review – Week 23

After the dominance of Bayern Munich, Bundesliga fans are finally being treated to quite the spectacle. For 24 hours, Niko Kovač’s side were sitting joint top with convincing leaders Borussia Dortmund after they had struggled for consistency throughout the season. Bayern finally found their grove while Dortmund have somewhat stagnated in recent weeks. This 2018/19 Bundesliga campaign is providing viewers with plenty of narrative but one that’s perhaps gone under the radar is the situation regarding Schalke 04, who seem to be in a state of disarray.

Runners-up to Bayern Munich last season, journalists and fans had tipped the glory years to return to Schalke under Domenico Tedesco. Appointed at 31, the Italian-born coach was given his big break in football by sporting director Christian Heidel, the man responsible for giving both Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel a platform in German football, with the duo both going on to coach Borussia Dortmund and then Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.

Finishing a largely 21 points behind Bayern Munich, Tedesco brought Champions League football back to Schalke following a three year absence. Fans of the Royal Blues had something to shout for. Finishing eight points ahead of fierce neighbours Borussia Dortmund, suddenly there was a sense of belief around the club, that they could go on to achieve bigger and better things.

Financially stable, they have one of the biggest fans bases in Europe while the working class city of Gelsenkirchen finally had a football club in Schalke that should arguably go on to compete with the Bundesliga big boys once again.

But after an outstanding season, Schalke suddenly find themselves languishing in 14th. Losing Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer to Bayern Munich and Crystal Palace on free transfers was just the start while the talented Thilo Kehrer joined PSG. Suddenly, Heidel’s recruitment policy failed and Tedesco’s tactics became stale. For what was an exciting team last season, Schalke find themselves in disarray and if they’re not careful, they could well find themselves in a dogfight.

The latest downfall being a 3-0 defeat at Heidel’s former employers 1. FSV Mainz 05, Schalke fans made their feelings known at full time with players and coaching stuff facing the disgruntled fan base. FOX journalist Archie Rhind-Tutt, who was at the game, noted that the Schalke ultras had left before the final whistle while chants of “we’ve had enough” were heard after going 2-0 down to Mainz, a side that Heidel had helped build.

Perhaps taking part of the blame, Heidel announced that he would be stepping down from his role as Schalke sporting director at the end of the season. Spending €26.5 million on Sebastian Rudy, Suat Serdar and Omar Mascarell this season hasn’t paid off while fans have been critical of his transfer policy in the past, signing the likes of Yehven Konoplyanka, who is yet to impress in a Schalke jersey, Nabil Bentaleb who has provided staff with problems while we’re yet to see what Breel Embolo can offer, given his injury history.

But should Heidel be the one to blame? Of course, he has faced much of the abuse from the Schalke fans but Tedesco also hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. During his first year in charge it’s evident the Italian had a plan, an idea and something refreshing. What worked during his first year hasn’t during his second and after changing his tactics before reverting back, they’ve been unable to replicate what they achieved last campaign.

Sitting 14thand just seven points ahead of VfB Stuttgart who occupy the relegation play-off spot, Tedesco’s aim now must be to finish mid-table, especially given that European football, although not impossible, is likely to be unattainable for Schalke this season. The 33-year-old obviously has the credentials, graduating top of his class ahead of Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, while he rightly deserves praise, and a chance at Schalke, for what he achieved in his first year.

Tedesco’s emphasis on youth is ideal for Schalke given their renowned youth academy and there’s no doubt that Heidel made the correct appointment. In an interview with the Independent in 2018, Heidel stated he hired Tedesco on his “personal background,” and that when the Italian arrived in Schalke, he had earnt the respect from his players: “When he came here, I felt it already on the second day that the players had accepted him. He has charisma – it’s one of those things, you either have it or you don’t.”

Heidel rightly deserves praise for unearthing another talented head coach but his poor recruitment has certainly contributed to Schalke’s poor campaign. Announcing his resignation, the Dane said: “I certainly hold the responsibility,” after falling short of expectations.

But what next for Schalke? Former Bayern Munich and Stuttgart sporting director Michael Reschke has been linked as Heidel’s successor while Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonas Boldt, who has reportedly had a meeting with Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies, could work under the 61-year-old. Another name is Klaus Allofs who’s last role was with Wolfsburg before leaving in 2016.

Whatever happens now, these final 11 Bundesliga games and a DFB quarter-final will have a telling contribution to the future of Tedesco.

 

1 | Bayern Munich are finally finding consistency following a poor start to their Bundesliga season. A narrow 1-0 win against Hertha BSC on Saturday had evidence of the old Bayern, a side that could grind out three points when it mattered. For a moment, Niko Kovač’s Bayern were level on points with leaders Borussia Dortmund before they welcomed Bayer Leverkusen to the Westfalenstadion on Sunday evening. BVB fan groups handed out leaflets prior to the fixture calling for extra support, suggesting the famous Yellow Wall hadn’t been as atmospheric as it could be in recent weeks. This didn’t prove to be the case for 90 minutes as Lucien Favre’s Dortmund battled against their counterparts on Sunday, looking like the fearless and prolific side they were earlier in the season. An end-to-end game, goals from Dan-Axel Zagadou, Jadon Sancho and Mario Götze was enough for Dortmund to see the game through after Jonathan Tah scored Leverkusen’s second with 15 minutes remaining to make it a nervy ending.

2 | European football could potentially return to the Volkswagen Arena after Wolfsburg dominated Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday. Yannick Gerhardt opened the scoring before a brace from Admir Mehmedi sealed the points for Bruno Labbadia’s side, who climbed above Eintracht Frankfurt into fifth. Unfortunately for Dieter Hecking’s Mönchengladbach, their title challenge looks to be over after matching Borussia Dortmund for much of the season, with the Foals now 11 points behind the leaders.

3 | Last week Anthony Modeste made his second 1. FC Köln debut, marking it with a goal to put his side 2-0 up against SC Paderborn 07. A calamitous performance defensively last weekend resulted in a 3-2 defeat following a capitulation but it was once against the Frenchman who made the headlines this week in Cologne. Many are calling for head coach Markus Anfang to be relieved on his duties but perhaps Modeste has the Köln head coach clutching onto a piece of string. Heading for a 1-1 draw against Sandhausen on Saturday afternoon, the introduction of Modeste with 12 minutes remaining resulted in a seven minute double, putting Köln just one point behind 2. Bundesliga leaders Hamburg with a game in hand.

By Daniel Pinder.

 

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