However, the team of Markus Weinzierl should not be underestimated. In the first leg of the season they showed that they are able to beat FC Bayern, who are not capable of maintaining a proper performance-level.
Schalke has not had an identity over the past few years. They always had one of the most expensive and best squads, but were not able to create a philosophy with it. Additionally they had to deal with distractions off the pitch, which made it even more difficult.
As a result they acquired Christian Heidel and Markus Weinzierl prior to the season, who were determined to bring some calmness to Gelsenkirchen. Well, half way into the season they are in 10th place with 10 points behind their big rival Borussia Dortmund, who is also struggling from time to time.
Just like Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Gladbach they missed out on profiting on other teams struggles, because – except Bayern and Leipzig – all the other Bundesliga top-teams are showing weaknesses. Right now there are clubs like Hoffenheim, Frankfurt, Berlin and Cologne, ranked top of the table, which is not really surprising if you take a closer look on their respective performances.
All of them have clear concepts and tactics and show to the big teams how it can be done successfully. But, does Schalke miss all of those traits, or is it just the change that needs time to sink into the club?
Missing solutions in the centre
The question is difficult to answer, even though you cannot accuse Weinzierl of having no concept. He implemented the three at the back formation at the beginning of the season to cover Naldo’s weaknesses. The approach made sense due to an incredible amount of good centre-backs. The build-up play improved massively under the new circumstances and Benedikt Höwedes was more often able to get involved offensively.
The main problem lies in the centre of the pitch, where the midfielders show their lack of skill regarding positioning. The gaps between them are often too big. For example Johannes Geis tried to fall back several times in the game against Frankfurt, which caused four players to be present in the first third of the pitch where the build-up play initiates. At the same time, both of the other two central-midfielders positioned themselves too high or too far outside, so that the centre was left open.
The team as a whole worked much better when the defensive part of the midfield played quite a bit higher up the field with the support of one of his teammates. All this causes the centre to be in a 3-2 formation with three players up-front. So it is much more easier to create triangles and initiate a proper build-up play over the middle than in a 3-1-0-2 formation.
The statistics show that Schalke moves over the middle in 24% of their total attacks. Considering the fact that they spend only 25% of the whole of 90 minutes in the last third of the pitch, it becomes clear that their approach over the wings is too easy to defend. Moreover they are lacking ideas and creative personnel behind the strikers.
However, if they find gaps in the opposite lines it can get quite dangerous. Especially Kolasinac is a factor with four assist and two goals so far this season. He benefits massively of the three at the back formation, which gives him a lot of space on his left wing. Taking a closer look at the scorers you can see that no Schalke player has scored more than four times in total. Because of several injuries they are missing a proper striker this season.
Embolo showed good first impressions but is still not available to play. Huntelaars time seems to be over and Choupo-Moting cannot perform regularly. If he does, he can create surprises and give the attack a new structure within seconds so that the opponent has no idea how to act further.
Unfortunately he rarely reached his potential this season. The best scorer so far is Nabil Bentaleb, although he is not a striker. In general it seems that his status is the one on whom hopes are pinned. He has good positioning and passing as well. The runner-ups scoring-wise are fromer Bayern player Schöpf (three goals) and Leon Goretzka (two goals).
Looking at all the names it becomes quite obvious that the current spot on the board is an underachievement for Schalke. Maybe it legitimates the question if Weinzierl is overrated. His work shows some good first steps, but a clear structure cannot be found anywhere.
All of that will much likely be less of a problem against FC Bayern. Bayern will have possession and Schalke will hunt for the ball. We expect them to vary their pressing from time to time higher or lower up the field.
Bayern needs to find solutions to counter this kind of approach, without Thiago. The combination of Kimmich and Alonso should be able to do the job. On one hand the Spaniard has had quite a few good games with Kimmich as his partner. Against Werder Bremen he won many important duels. Kimmich on the other hand has had a good performance against Werder as well. He played vertically, pressured well and was in a good position most of the time.
We may have to add that Werder did not pressure the team to the fullest but also the game against Leipzig showed what Alonso is capable of doing when he gets the support of his teammates. The most important question is who will play as the number 10. Müller only shines with clever runs but has too less success with the ball. 37 ball-actions are too little in this important position.
It seems like Ancelotti has no solution at hand and tries to rely on his players to take on the tasks in zone 14 without neglecting their own. They need to act fast and in good combinations to crack Schalkes defence open. It will be the first test of the year and even though Wenzierl’s team seems to be weak, the game will be completely different. Schalke will focus on their defence (only 20 goals conceded) and try to counter dangerously. If FC Bayern cannot find verticality, structure and rhythm it will be an unpleasant weekend for them. And who knows maybe Holger Badstuber brings some surprises with him back to Munich as well.
Five bold predictions
- FC Bayern will score in the first half of the game.
- Schalke will not score at all.
- Müller will not start the game.
- Kimmich starts.
- There will be a goal resulting from a set-piece.