Group Stage Fan Preview: Schalke 04

Zach Lowy talks to Bundesliga expert Navneeth Sridhar on Schalke’s chances going into the group stage.

ZL: What do you expect from Schalke going into the group stage?

NS: The draw could have been worse. They have a decent chance of topping the group if Tedesco fixes early season issues. There will be tough away trips but manageable opponents. They’ll also face Höwedes and Farfán when they play Lokomotiv.

ZL: Schalke were a revelation last season, playing great football and finishing 2nd. What do you think has been the biggest difference between this season and last? How do they get back to where they used to be?

NS: So far it’s been more of a clear lack of goals. The 3 main strikers have been bad in front of goal and lack of midfield creativity hurts. And terrible discipline (2 red cards in 2 games) also hurts. Tedesco really needs to instill fresh ideas.

ZL: What would you like to see Tedesco do?

NS: Integrate the new signings well. Baba, Rudy, Sané and Uth will be starters but all still seem out of place. He really needs to have a plan B (evident vs Hertha) and get the goal scorers to perform.

ZL: Would you consider changing the formation?

NS: I would like to see a 3 man midfield with Rudy, Mascarell and Bentaleb for more stability at some point. Maybe drop one of the strikers or center backs.

ZL: What do you think will be Schalke’s XI for the CL?

NS: Fährmann; Sané Naldo Nastasić; Caligiuri Rudy Bentaleb Baba; Harit; Embolo Uth. Perhaps Mascarell for Embolo.

ZL: What is Schalke’s biggest weakness currently?

NS: Lack of midfield balance. And strikers who are not goalscorers.

ZL: What’s their biggest strength?

NS: Good squad depth (after a long time!)

ZL: How do you expect Tedesco to use that squad depth this season?

NS: They can have a decent run in all 3 competitions. Even with the annual injury crisis, there are enough like-for-like replacements to continue the same system without a massive overhaul.

ZL: What are your predictions for Schalke this season?

NS: Optimistic: top 3 league, cup finals, CL quarters. Realistic: top 6 league, cup finals, CL round of 16.

ZL: What’s one advantage they have over their group stage opponents?

NS: Mixture of European experience, young squad and youthful manager with new ideas.

ZL: What new ideas makes Tedesco such a promising manager?

NS: Making center backs crucial to the system, flexibility to play possession or pressing, getting previously underperforming players to perform.

ZL: Is there one aspect you expect Tedesco to struggle in the CL?

NS: Since it’s his first season in the CL, lack of European experience. First time facing tough scheduling and tiring away trips.

ZL: Who’s one player you can see having a breakthrough season at Schalke this year?

NS: Cedric Teuchert. Great player for Germany U21s and will get lots of opportunities this season.

ZL: What about Suat Serdar?

NS: He will get his chances considering how bad the midfield has been.  He needs to get a good run of games to shine.

ZL: Who’s one underperforming player for Schalke that needs to step up if they are to make it to the Round of 16?

NS: Right now, Burgstaller and Nastasić (mainly Burgstaller though). They’re both experienced players, but they’ve been atrocious this season. They need to step up in performances and leadership.

ZL: Are there any particular weakness you think Schalke’s opponents should try to exploit?

NS: Poor finishing and reckless defending.

Photo: imago/DeFodi