- Mixed season so far for Schalke.
- Badstuber brought in to bolster defence.
- Burgstaller needed to compensate for injuries in attack.
FC Schalke 04 have experienced plenty of ups and downs in Markus Weinzierl's first season in charge. Leroy Sane and Joel Matip were among the players to leave in the summer, while the likes of Abdul Rahman Baba, Naldo, Benjamin Stambouli, Nabil Bentaleb and Yevhen Konoplyanka came in.
Perhaps it is no surprise, given the wholesale changes, that the team has experienced a mixed campaign. A worrying five-game losing streak to start the season was followed by a seven-match unbeaten run in the league during October and November.
The Royal Blues topped their UEFA Europa League group with five wins from six, but three Bundesliga defeats in their final four games of 2016 have left them 11th in the table, on 18 points.
Watch: Highlights of Schalke's first Bundesliga win of the Markus Weinzierl era:
Weinzierl began by alternating between a 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 formation but after the club suffered their worst ever start to a Bundesliga season he soon settled on a 3-5-2 system.
Bosnia-Herzegovina international Sead Kolasinac has been thriving down the left wing and has two goals and four assists already, while on the other side Austrian Alessandro Schöpf has weighed in with three goals to make up for the loss of three-time Europa League winner Coke to long-term injury. Tottenham Hotspur FC loanee midfielder Bentaleb has also settled in extremely well and is Schalke's top scorer in the league with four goals in 16 appearances.
Watch: Nabil Bentaleb scored his first Bundesliga brace on Matchday 8:
Germany international Leon Goretzka built on an impressive 2015/16 campaign by weighing in with two goals in 14 games and ahead of him Max Meyer, another 21-year-old, is continuing to develop nicely. Schalke scored only 20 goals in 16 league games before the winter break, however, after suffering a succession of injuries up front.
Schalke's line-up in 2017 could involve two significant changes. With club captain Benedikt Höwedes troubled by a hip problem and Matija Nastasic missing games too, Weinzierl has brought in centre back Holger Badstuber on loan from FC Bayern München. The 27-year-old will be desperate to prove himself after sitting out most of the past two seasons through injury and he will challenge fellow left-footer Nastasic when everyone is fit.
While Badstuber could prove an astute signing, an extra attacker was a necessity. Swiss forward Breel Embolo broke his ankle in October and could miss the rest of the season, while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (knee) and Franco Di Santo (stomach) have played only 13 league games between them due to their own fitness concerns. That left Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as the only senior striker who was in full health going into the winter break.
With Huntelaar not due back until February, Schalke have since moved to reinforce that sector by signing Austria international Guido Burgstaller from Bundesliga 2 side 1. FC Nürnberg. The 27-year-old scored 14 goals in 16 league matches in the first half of the season and will provide Weinzierl with a much-needed alternative in attack – especially since youngster Bernard Tekpetey has joined Ghanaian compatriot Rahman and Algeria's Bentaleb at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Keep an eye out for USA youth international Haji Wright as well. The 18-year-old former New York Cosmos player scored six goals and made eight more in 13 appearances for Schalke's Under-19 team. That form was enough to catch the eye of Weinzierl, who brought the teenager on the senior team’s winter training camp and tipped him to achieve "great things" in the future.