Munich - As Klaas-Jan Huntelaar limped out of the Revierderby with Borussia Dortmund on matchday 25 of last season, many FC Schalke 04 fans were understandably sharing forlorn looks. How could the Royal Blues cope without their top striker?
Indeed, try as they might, Chinedu Obasi, Teemu Pukki and Ciprian Marica were never truly able to fill the ‘Hunter’s’ boots satisfactorily.
Without the Dutchman’s goals, a drought set in which saw Schalke drift away from the top three in the Bundesliga and crash out of the UEFA Champions League, sparking fears they might not even play in Europe’s top club competition again next season.
They only just managed to clinch fourth spot on the final day of the season, and to prevent similar agony next term, they have pounced for Adam Szalai from 1. FSV Mainz 05, “an outstanding striker who had a good goalscoring record in Mainz,” according to Horst Heldt, Schalke’s sporting director, who added: “Last season showed that our squad needs adding to.”
Szalai vs Huntelaar: a comparison
With 21 goals in 79 Bundesliga appearances, the 25-year-old Hungarian may not have the same kind of scoring record as Huntelaar (47 goals in 80 games), but 13 of those came last season when he netted three more than his new strike partner. On average, Szalai needed 185 minutes per goal in 2012/13 while Huntelaar required 223 minutes.
In taking 47 per cent of his clear-cut chances, Huntelaar nevertheless showed the clinical edge which led him to the 2011/12 Bundesliga golden boot award. Szalai isn't far behinf with a 42 per cent conversion ratio, but the real difference between the pair is their style of play.
Szalai likes to get involved in the action more, dropping back further and touching the ball an average of 38 times per match. Huntelaar averaged just 33 touches per game and was only involved in 20 challenges over the course of 90 minutes, compared to Szalai’s 34.
With Szalai partnering Hunterlaar, or even operating as an attacking midfielder - a role he filled several times under Thomas Tuchel last season - Schalke’s attacking potential appears to be as potent as it was when Spanish star Raul was on their books, playing in a similarly versatile position, and contributing to Huntelaar’s prolific 2011/12 campaign.
Furthermore, with Champions League football to look forward to once again, the added strength in depth is just what the Gelsenkirchen club need to sustain a strong assault in all competitions next year.
They will now hope Szalai can settle in quickly and stimulate a healthy battle for places, giving coach Jens Keller the kind of a selection headache he would surely have welcomed back in March and April.