Munich - Tenth place in the Bundesliga is not a position you would normally associate with a club of FC Schalke 04’s size and stature, especially considering they are soon to compete in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Room for improvement
Yet that is precisely where the Royal Blues find themselves after 21 matches, with Saturday’s 4-0 defeat to FC Bayern Munich signalling Schalke's lowest ebb of their season so far.
Admittedly, Jens Keller's side were deprived of first-team regulars Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Ibrahim Afellay, Christian Fuchs and Kyriakos Papadopoulos, but Schalke's nosedive began long before kick-off on Saturday.
"The players have got to show some pride," said sporting director Horst Heldt. “It doesn’t help when we have to cover the losses of several players. Atsuto Uchida and Julian Draxler came back from their national teams with knocks while Jefferson Farfan had problems with his return and only arrived in the team hotel a few hours before kick-off. That doesn’t make things any easier for us, but those who did play still have to show more strength - we need to see more courage.”
The loss of such experienced campaigners would hurt any side, but a rapid stemming of the tide needs to take place if Schalke are to avoid a sad end to a season that began so promisingly. "We have two important games against Mainz in the Bundesliga and Galatasaray in the Champions League,” continued Heldt. “We’re going to have to do a lot to win them both."
Things have rarely gone smoothly since Keller took the reins in December. "It makes things all the more difficult when you don’t have nine players in your squad,” he said. “We had plenty of youngsters in the side and some who have not been playing regularly of late. You could tell that we lacked courage to attack Bayern and cause them problems.”
All for one and one for all
Indeed, Keller will relish the returns of Huntelaar, Farfan and Draxler but will be without Uchida for a while longer. The Japanese defender was diagnosed with a torn thigh muscle on Monday and still requires several weeks to recover.
"We’re going to have to work our socks off to get back on track,” said Jermaine Jones. “It’s an attitude thing, and at times like this, when things are not going well for us, we have got to call on everything we’ve got. We’ve got to pull together.”