bundesliga.com takes a look at how things have come together for the Royal Blues ahead of the start of the 2014/15 campaign…
Schalke’s hopes for this season rest heavily on the goalscoring ability of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who, having missed much of the 2013/14 campaign through injury, will be hoping to return to the type of form that saw him collect the Torjägerkanone in 2012 with 29 goals. The Royal Blues struggled somewhat in his absence, yet the Dutchman still racked up 12 goals and an assist in just 18 Bundesliga appearances, proving his eye for goal hasn't diminished.
Becoming the youngest player to break the 100-appearance barrier in the Bundesliga on Matchday 33 was, unfortunately for Julian Draxler, the sole high point of a disappointing league campaign littered with injuries. Dynamic, outstanding in one-on-one situations and a World Cup winner to boot, Schalke's most-cherished son is desperate to improve on his return of two goals and seven assists. "I can't wait for the coming season and want to prove that I've got more in me," said the 20-year-old.
With Schalke desperate to cement their long-term position in the top four, opinions varied when it came to whether Jens Keller was the man to accomplish that goal, but his track record has proven many doubters wrong according to sporting director Horst Heldt: "In the face of significant obstacles, including from the public, Jens never deviated from his plan and brought Schalke back on track in the Bundesliga." The former S04 Under-17s head coach now has to do it all over again in his second full season in charge.
Stuttgart-native Keller has been adamant about building a "winner's mentality" in his young side. Last season's 5-1 drubbing away to FC Bayern München on Matchday 23 was their only defeat in 15 league matches between December and April, and it's that type of form S04 are looking to reproduce this time around. "We want to qualify or the Champions League, but we won't complain if we do better than that," said Keller. "We weren't too far off Dortmund last season!"
One win from their first four games saw Schalke suffer an early setback in their bid for European qualification, but the Royal Blues recovered, only losing to three of the eventual top six during the rest of the Hinrunde. Following injuries to several first-team regulars, Keller was able to call upon a bevy of young talent. With Max Meyer at the forefront, the 43-year-old gave his players the freedom to express themselves and reaped the rewards as he guided die Knappen to their sixth top-three finish in ten years.
Seven first-team regulars are currently sidelined through injury - Jefferson Farfan, Leon Goretzka and Atsuto Uchida chief amongst them - but Keller feels his side are well-equipped to cope, stating die Knappen "don't need anymore signings." He has already experimented with a 4-4-2 formation with summer signing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in attack. However, Keller is more likely to deploy the Cameroon international off Huntelaar, with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sidney Sam, Meyer and Draxler also vying for one of three spots behind the lone striker.
S04 endured an inconsistent pre-season, racking up comfortable wins over lower-league German sides whilst suffering defeats to Premier League trio West Ham United FC, Newcastle United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC. "We're a lot better off than we were last summer," claimed Keller, who has seen the likes of Tranquillo Barnetta, Sam and Choupo-Moting (pictured) all produce influential performances. None of them could avoid the Royal-Blues' 2-1 defeat to SG Dynamo Dresden in the first round of the DFB Cup, however.