With Bastian Oczipka haring up and down the left-hand side, it hasn't taken Schalke fans long to get over the summer 2017 loss of Sead Kolasinac to English Premier League outfit Arsenal.

Kolasinac was the Ruhr district club's best player by some distance last season, but his successor at left-back has ensured standards haven't slipped. In fact, the opposite is true.

"I'm really happy – on a personal level and for the team," Oczipka told bundesliga.com in an exclusive interview. "The first half of the season was positive. It's going well for us."

Perhaps even better than expected. What some might have anticipated to be a season of transition after last term’s failure to qualify for European competition for the first time in seven years, has instead restored belief that Schalke are among the best the Bundesliga has to offer.

After 19 rounds of fixtures, the Royal Blues are one of three teams locked on 31 points, jostling for position in the top four. Only four sides have outscored them, they boast the joint-fourth meanest defence in the division (25 goals conceded) and have suffered the level-second fewest number of defeats (four). Domenico Tedesco's troupe are also through to the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup.

A first taste of UEFA Champions League football is a very real possibility for Oczipka. © gettyimages / Maja Hitij/Bongarts

Oczipka's role in Schalke's notable volte-face calls for particular attention. The 29-year-old has started 18 of the Die Knappen's 19 top-flight outings so far this term, producing numbers that, in some instances, outdo the previous efforts of the very player he was brought in from Bundesliga rivals Eintracht Frankfurt to replace.

Kolasinac spent five years at Schalke, peaking last season. The Bosnian made 25 Bundesliga appearances in 2016/17, weighing in with a career-best three goals and five assists. He won 57 per cent of his attempted challenges and hit the mark with 74.6 per cent of his attempted passes, but while he had little trouble taking up positions in the final third, his final ball wasn't quite so accomplished. 

Only 27 of Kolasinac's total number of crosses over the course of the campaign produced a shot on goal. Oczipka, by contrast, has already teed up a team-leading 56 efforts in seven fewer matches - and with 15 still to play. He only has one assist and is yet to score - although he did have a direct hand in seven goals in a Frankfurt shirt last season - has misplaced fewer passes (21 per cent) and tops the head-to-head count for challenges won (60 per cent).

Watch: Skip to 1:10 to see a belting goal from Oczipka's Frankfurt days

Pound for pound, Oczipka is proving himself to be the better player in a league where wing-backs can be equally as effective as their more advanced counterparts on the flanks. Schalke didn't just find a replacement for their prized 2016/17 asset; they got an upgrade.

Chris Mayer-Lodge

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