Gelsenkirchen - As if a 3-1 derby defeat wasn’t enough punishment for FC Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund’s Kevin Großkreutz rubbed salt into the Royal-Blues' gaping wounds after the game, gloating, “we really enjoyed the last few minutes - it was almost like a home match”.
A born-and-bred Dortmunder and life-long BVB fan, Großkreutz’s words would have hurt Royal Blue pride no end, and crowned a terrible week for the club after the UEFA Champions League loss to Chelsea FC. Schalke were well-beaten in both games, however, and soon after the final whistle, the inquest began as to why. “There’s quite a gulf between us and the really top teams,” said captain Benedikt Höwedes. “We have to accept that we’re not at their level, or the level we want to be at.”
In defence seems to be where Schalke’s biggest problems lie. They have conceded 22 goals in ten Bundesliga matches, and six in the last week alone. Attacking midfielder Julian Draxler held up his hands for some of the blame. “We made lots of silly mistakes ,” said the youngster after an uncharacteristically quiet match. “We invited Dortmund to counter-attack us.”
Injury worries and team changes have rocked the proverbial defensive boat. Against BVB Jens Keller shifted left-back Dennis Aogo into the holding-midfield role, with Sead Kolasinac at left-back and Christian Fuchs at left-midfield, nominally for his attacking threat.
Lack of experience
They were switches supposedly borne out of necessity and supported by sporting director Horst Heldt: “Fuchs won the penalty, and Aogo impressed in midfield.” Yet the hosts were repeatedly overrun in the middle of the park. The lively 18-year-old Max Meyer made an impact by pulling a goal back from after coming off the bench, becoming the youngest-ever player to score in three league games in a row. Nevertheless, Keller was loath to risk using the youngster from the beginning and warned of the dangers of pushing him too far too fast. “We said a short time ago that we want to develop Max slowly. I can’t start him every game and risk him burning out.”
That Meyer’s introduction was seen as a sign of new hope for Schalke underlines their present predicament in that experienced players are struggling for form. Kevin-Prince Boateng, never recovered from missing an early penalty and Draxler, himself a veteran of over 50 Bundesliga games, was also quiet. Injuries to Jefferson Farfan, Marco Höger and Klaas Jan-Huntelaar only exacerbated Schalke’s lack of experienced heads. “We’re missing key players and that’s certainly affecting the structure of the team,” said Heldt.
Eyes on fourth
With eleven points now separating the two sides, Schalke’s early season aim of competing with Dortmund already looks one nearing the realms of impossibility. Indeed, fourth place and a Champions League qualifying position is beginning to emerge as the only realistic target for die Knappen, and Matchday 11 will show what sort of competition they face for that aim. They travel to high-flying Hertha Berlin, currently lying in fifth, two places above Schalke.
Dietmar Nolte/Daniel Thacker
Don't miss Henrikh Mkhitaryan's extraordinary assist in the Revierderby, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: