Schalke’s Devastating Fall From Grace – Tactical Analysis

Once one of the Bundesliga’s supreme outfits, Schalke 04 have had a devastating season in 2020-21, one of the worst performances of a team in the league’s history. With four games still to play, The Royal Blues have already been relegated from the league, with just 2 wins and 13 points from their 30 matches.

Schalke 04 were in the UEFA Champions League just two seasons ago, but after falling to 14th in the table that season, Domenico Tedesco was relieved from his duties and replaced by David Wagner in time for the 2019-20 campaign. If only they knew back then how much of a disaster the next two years would be. Wagner started the 2019-20 season well with the likes of Daniel Caligiuri and Weston McKennie in full flow, but off-the-field issues persisted and Schalke were handed three heavy defeats at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, including an 8-0 blow to Bayern Munich. Wagner was dispatched, and replaced by a host of managers over the course of the 2020-21 season, none of whom could pull Schalke back into safety, or into any kind of form whatsoever. How exactly the team went from being in the UEFA Champions League to the worst team in the history of the competition in the blink of an eye remains a bit of a mystery. But tactically, we can begin to understand where Schalke have gone wrong this season, in their miserable quest to survive. Here is a tactical analysis of Schalke 04’s devastating fall from grace in 2020-21.

system of play: 4-2-3-1

Since finishing second in 2017-18, Schalke’s recruitment has been absolutely woeful. They’ve either signed players well over the age of 30 and well past their prime, or splashed the cash to pick up players who failed to establish themselves at other clubs. They never signed a striker of any quality, instead relying on the likes of Caligiuri and Serdar to score goals from midfield. Ahead of the 2020-21 season, to make matters worse, they sold their two best players – Caligiuri, who departed for Augsburg, and the now Juventus rising star Weston McKennie. The season before that they let Sebastian Rudy leave for Hertha Berlin, and Breel Embolo for Monchengladbach. Failing to sign an adequate replacement for Naldo after his retirement was another misstep along the way, leaving the Royal Blues with a squad of players simply not good enough to perform at the highest level in the Bundesliga.

To give credit to Schalke and their many managers, they’ve tried absolutely everything when it comes to system and style of play to keep The Royal Blues in the league. From 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, Die Knappen have had no consistency in their quest for survival, and that probably hasn’t helped them. 4-2-3-1 has been the most common link across the season, but the side’s only two wins this season came in a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2. Tactically speaking, this is one of many reasons why Schalke have been a bit of a mess. Regardless of formation, the team tend to play with two defensive midfielders – often Benjamin Stambouli and Suat Serdar. Realistically, both should have enough experience and quality to perform at this level, but both have been well off the pace this season.

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Further forward, Amine Harit is one of the few Bundesliga level players in the squad and is their most common presence in attack. He’s the only player in the team to achieve more than two assists, with six goal involvements in total for the 23-year-old. Schalke opt for the left side for the vast majority of their attacks (38%), and with Harit the only player capable of breaking lines on the dribble, it’s easy to see why. Matthew Hoppe meanwhile is the side’s top scorer this season, with five goals, after making his professional debut for the club in November. Centre-back Salif Sane and goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann can also be decent level Bundesliga players on their day, but neither have remained fit enough this season. Bastian Oczipka was also, at his best, one of the best fullbacks in the league, but has had to do far too much defending this season to showcase any of his crossing ability or chance creation in attack. In short, Schalke’s 4-2-3-1 system is very ineffective, and has no real continuity between the different positions in the formation. Without a single win playing the formation this season, that says something in and of itself.

failures in attack

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Schalke 04 have been abysmal all ends up this season, and this tactical analysis will likely get ugly. We first start with Schalke’s miserable attack, as the team have scored just 18 goals in their 30 matches so far. Despite keeping the 12th most possession in the league and 13th highest percentage of passes completed, Schalke have completed just 9 shots per game, the lowest in the league.

With these statistics, it is clear for all to see that Schalke have lacked any bit of productivity with regards to creating chances. They’ve had no continuity between the lines of their team, and have struggled to break into the opposition’s half. Given that no team spends more time in their own third of the pitch, it’s therefore unsurprising that Schalke have created the least amount of chances, taken the least amount of shots and also completed the lowest amount of crosses in the Bundesliga. A decent goal-scoring midfielder like Suat Serdar has been completely unable to showcase any magic this season, being restricted to a defensive role and a man simply responsible for giving the ball to others in attack. The German has so much more to offer his team in attack, but hasn’t been given the license, the freedom, or the confidence to do so.

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Another major hole in Schalke’s season has been their inability to advance into the penalty area. Only Werder Bremen have had a higher proportion of their shots come from outside the eighteen-yard-box this season, and no team has had fewer shots in the six-yard-box. With the least amount of crosses per game in the league, it’s clear why they’ve been so ineffective at breaking into the penalty area. At 6’3, Matthew Hoppe could be a great presence in the air, but he hasn’t been given enough of a chance to showcase that. Harit always looks to take players on himself, while Mark Uth lacks the quality of delivery to really help his teammates in their quest to score.

Amine Harit is a capable dribbler and, on his day, an incredible on the ball presence. But there’s only so much dribbling that one player can do on their own. Harit himself is also guilty of trying to take all of the burden of the team’s attack on his own shoulders and overplay his hand. In the few times that the Moroccan midfielder and American forward have teamed up, there have been some positive results. But unfortunately Schalke have been unable to progress the ball into the right areas on a regular enough basis to get their best dribbler and best finisher in situations for them to succeed. Even when they do get Harit on the ball, he is far too selfish to adequately utilize the many talents at his disposal. Only Hertha’s Matheus Cunha has been dispossessed more times per game this season, but Cunha has contributed significantly more goals for his team.

defensive failures

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As if there attack wasn’t already bad enough, Schalke have conceded a whopping 76 goals this season in 30 matches. With only 18 of their own finding the back of the net, their goal differential of -58 is 44 goals away from Hertha Berlin’s -14 in second to last place.

Despite the high amount of time they spend without the ball, the Royal Blues have made the fourth fewest amount of interceptions per game in the league. Teams like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund spend almost 20% more time on the ball than Schalke, yet have made more interceptions per game. This speaks to just how bad and disorganized they’ve been in shutting their opposition down. Any kind of continuity between the lines would allow the team to stop their opposing teams from breaking lines, playing into wide areas and progressing up the field. Unfortunately, Schalke have none of that, and have achieved none of those positive results. They’ve also had one of the worst disciplinary records in the league, failing to stay composed in their efforts.

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Schalke first and foremost lack pace in their side, particularly in the wide areas. As a result of this, they’ve been exposed over and over again in transition. Some teams can make up for a lack of speed in defense by organizing themselves with a very stable, resilient defensive block. Schalke on the other hand leave themselves far too exposed, with the team never pressing as a collective unit. Sometimes individuals will chase a player on the ball to limit their time, but this is far different from pressing. Pressing involves the entire team involved in a systematic combination of defensive efforts incorporating pressure, cover and compactness. With only the pressure part, the system crumbles. That’s essentially what’s happened with Schalke this season.

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To make matters worse, the Royal Blues have conceded 17 goals from set-pieces this season, the most in Europe’s top five leagues. Since Schalke have several players who are more than decent in the air (Salif Sane, Shkodran Mustafi, Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, etc.), this again speaks to a lack of proper defensive organization, rather than a lack of quality.

There was a lot of potential for a coach to come into Schalke and turn their fortunes around with the squad they had at their disposal. Unfortunately, they made poor hiring decisions over and over this season, and have ended up the worst team in Bundesliga history.

concluding thoughts

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Schalke 04 have made themselves into the worst team in the history of the league this season, but we have to remember they were once one of Germany’s most effective teams. With a few rebuilding years, the Royal Blues could be back and ready to rumble again in Germany’s top flight. Their quick relegation this season was down in part to some incredible defensive woes, such as their failure to defend set-pieces, and their inability to break the lines and create more out of their possession in attack. No manager has been able to get them out of this mess so far, and it will be very interesting to see if anyone in the future can turn their fortunes around, and if so, how. Unfortunately, for this season, Schalke 04 have made headlines as the worst team the Bundesliga has ever seen.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Schalke 04’s devastating fall from grace in the Bundesliga. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite. If you enjoy the Bundesliga, also be sure to check out our brand new site – Bundesliga Daily. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…
-> Edin Terzic – Borussia Dortmund – Tactical Analysis
-> Oliver Glasner – VFL Wolfsburg – Tactical Analysis
-> Marco Rose – Borussia Monchengladbach – Tactical Analysis
-> Hansi Flick – Bayern Munich – Tactical Analysis

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