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2020/2021 Bundesliga Preview | Schalke 04

Where hasn’t it gone wrong for Schalke 04? If this was a troll account, it’s likely that our club preview could end right there. But despite the often-comedic nature of the goings-on in Gelsenkirchen in recent years, so much more respect must be paid to what is one of the biggest clubs in the country.

As of June 2020, Schalke remain in the top 15 richest clubs in the world in terms of valuation and 16th in revenue. With a loyal and fervently dedicated fanbase and a world class youth academy, Schalke should be miles ahead of where they are currently.

When Alexander Jobst and Jochen Schneider openly spoke to the press in an apologetic manner about the nature of the mistakes that have plagued the club on a yearly basis, you know the situation is desperate. In a bid to return to a more organic approach to growth, Schalke’s stance of no longer relying on big-free transfers to try to return to a truly competitive state is admirable. But is it too little too late?

Likely Starting XI

Key Man

Suat Serdar – Midfielder

As American international Weston McKennie jet-set off to Turin in a loan move to Italian giants Juventus, questions about the nature of Schalke’s ability in the centre of the park in the coming term were immediately levied.

Regardless of the promotion of Can Bozdogan (U19’s) and Nick Taitague (Schalke II) into the first team, and the return of Nabil Bentaleb and Sebastian Rudy from loan spells, McKennie was an utterly vital piece of the puzzle moving forward. That very fact makes the growing star above Suat Serdar’s head even greater.

The German youth international is one of the brightest young names in the league and after his seven goals from central midfield in just 20 appearances last term, his influence on the scoresheet will once again be called upon.

It will have to be so much more than just goals from the youngster now, though. Unless Rudy and Bentaleb set out on redemption tours, Serdar is going to have to be even more present in all phases of play than he already is. Should he pass that test, he too could find himself moving on to greener pastures in the not too distant future.

Signing to Watch

Vedad Ibisevic – Centre-Forward 

True to their word, the Schalke brass did not oversee a spending campaign of note this summer. Amongst a host of promoted players and those returning from season-long loans, the free transfer of veteran centre-forward Vedad Ibisevic was one of only two non-internal pieces of business.

While head coach David Wagner can call upon a host of centre-forward options this term, the native of Vlasenica could well be his most important.

No one expects the 36-year old to be first-choice in what is likely his final year of top-flight football but with a long-term approach focused around low-fee acquisitions and academy products, Ibisevic’s experience and professionalism goes a very long way in squad management. This simply cannot be discounted, and a similar example can be seen in the positive effect David Luiz has had on a young Arsenal squad since his move from Chelsea last season.

Do not discount his ability to defy time and come up in key moments either, should he get any number of minutes under Wagner this season.

Strength

Potential

This may be an odd thing to highlight regarding a standout trait for the coming season, but Schalke are a work-in-progress if there ever was one.

At its core, Schalke’s first-team has a considerable amount of potential. The aforementioned Rabbi Matondo & Can Bozdogan are added to Amine Harit, Suat Serdar, Malick Thiaw and Ozan Kabak in terms of a young core of players to build a future around.

Questions will remain as to whether Schalke will be able to retain half of the players mentioned but if they were to defy expectations and overachieve this season, anything is possible. For David Wagner, it is essential that they take the right approach on the tactics board this term.

In the end, it could very well look closer to project youth come the Rückrunde but in a league where building a young core is a way of life rather than an exception to the rule, putting faith in the next generation could prove the right path to take.

Weakness

No reliable and consistent goal threat

Why would you need five recognized centre-forwards and two potential deputies in the forward line? The simple answer is that goals were at an absolute premium last season. Schalke managed to find the back of the net on just 38 occasions, one more than Paderborn and two more than Fortuna Düsseldorf, both of whom were relegated.

Their record at the back was comparable to those around them in the table and not too far behind a Hoffenheim side that fought their way to sixth. The issue in this team is clear, though the source of it is up for debate.

One can argue that their lack of goals is down to a genuine lack of true creativity despite having the likes of Harit in their ranks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that three target men on the books signals a desire to have your attacking core play around a central figure to create space to find those chances. Gonçalo Paciência, Guido Burgstaller and Ibisevic suit such a deployment, though Uth and Skrzybski offer more flexible options in the centre-forward position.

At the very least, this gives Wagner a bit more flexibility on the pitch to find goals where they so often went missing last term. It’s vital he finds the answer to the riddle.

Verdict

There are few who are expecting big things from Schalke during the 2020/21 Bundesliga season. Their inability to bring home three points for sixteen matches on the spin last campaign is the writing on the wall Die Königsblauen must fight tooth and nail to avoid yet again.

It’s hard to see Schalke finishing anywhere above 12th in the table. Bigger surprises have occurred and if David Wagner gets it right, they do have players capable of dragging above a potential relegation fight that many may think they’ll be hotly embroiled in for the majority of the season. Finishing at least six points clear of the bottom three – at current – may be considered an achievement.

Andrew Thompson

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