Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, Naldo, Max Meyer and Weston McKennie soak up the applause from the Veltins Arena after guiding the Royal Blues past local rivals Borussia Dortmund. - © © imago / Team 2
Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, Naldo, Max Meyer and Weston McKennie soak up the applause from the Veltins Arena after guiding the Royal Blues past local rivals Borussia Dortmund. - © © imago / Team 2

Naldo, Max Meyer, Weston McKennie and the Schalke stars thriving under Domenico Tedesco


Too often, football coaches are wedded to a certain playing system, come hell or high water. Peter Bosz's tenure at Borussia Dortmund, for example, was doomed from the start due to the Dutchman's dogmatic tactical approach. The seldom seen other side of the coin, however, is when a coach is able to devise a system that works for their players: one man who has made that his hallmark is Schalke's Domenico Tedesco.

As Tedesco told back in October: "The system itself isn't the be-all and end-all ... The biggest thing, and what I find the most important, is how you lead people; how you motivate players to run through brick walls for the club and how you help them to make the most of their potential."

Almost every player at Schalke is making the most of their potential at present, and as a result the club are rightly one of the favourites to claim one of the four available UEFA Champions League berths. Part of the reason for the Royal-Blues' improvement this season (after finishing 10th last term) has been that Tedesco has wrought every inch of potential from his players, who are in turn thriving under his stewardship.

Watch: Tedesco has breathed new life into Meyer, Naldo and Harit, among others!

There is no fixed system as such at Schalke – a fact that makes the Gelsenkirchen giants one of the most interesting sides tactically in the Bundesliga this season – but the 32-year-old has made some tweaks to certain players' positions that have brought significant upswings in performances.

Accordingly, takes an in-depth look at which players have most reaped the rewards of Tedesco's refreshing, Royal-Blue revolution...


Before Tedesco: Out-of-form, ageing centre-back
After Tedesco: The beating heart of one of the Bundesliga's best backlines

At this stage last season, there was uncertainty as to whether Naldo would remain at Schalke, struggling as he was in the centre of a four-man defence under Markus Weinzierl and with rumours swirling about whether his contract would be extended.

A year on and the centre-back is not only one of the Bundesliga's best defenders, but is also an outside bet to be part of Brazil's FIFA World Cup squad. The 35-year-old recently became the Bundesliga's record appearance-maker, a record he has claimed as his own in large part because he has not missed a minute for the Royal Blues this season.

Watch: Naldo headed a late equaliser in one of the most dramatic Revierderby encounters ever!

- © imago

Naldo, three years older than his coach, is the rock at the heart of Tedesco's three-man defence. Remarkably, he has won a league-high 73 per cent of his challenges, while his aerial threat has been crucial in Schalke becoming one of the top flight's most dangerous sides from dead-ball situations: the long-limbed Brazilian has already chipped in with seven goals and three assists – including that memorable late equaliser against Dortmund in the Revierderby and then his stunning free-kick in the return leg.

Fielding Naldo in the centre of a back three, flanked usually by two quicker players in Thilo Kehrer and Matija Nastasic, has made redundant his weaknesses (for all his attributes, he isn't the quickest) and enhanced his considerable strengths: as well as winning all those aerial duels, the centre-back has become influential to his side's build-up play, finding his man with over 90 per cent of his passes. It is little wonder Naldo describes Tedesco as the best coach he's ever had.

Max Meyer

Before Tedesco: Faltering false nine
After Tedesco: The best deep-lying playmaker in Germany

Before encountering Tedesco, Meyer's career had gone off the rails. Once one of his country's most promising prospects – the preternaturally gifted midfielder made his international debut at 18 – everything seemed set for Meyer to follow in the footsteps of Julian Draxler as the next great No10 off the Schalke production line.

Yet amid a flurry of managerial changes, Meyer lost his way in recent seasons. He only featured sporadically last term, perhaps the nadir for a player who looked lost and was shunted across the attacking midfield positions, a victim of his own versatility and his club's chronic instability.

The arrival of Tedesco has solved both of those problems. With Meyer putting in the hard yards off the field – his Instagram feed is a showreel of the 22-year-old in the gym – Tedesco vowed to find a position to reward the hard work.

Weston McKennie

Before Tedesco: Youth-team jack of all trades
After Tedesco: The USA's next great central midfielder

Unknown to most outside of hipster football circles before the season, McKennie didn't really have a position. The USA youngster was regarded as a tough-tackling central midfield prospect, although that's not saying much given that Schalke's phenomenal record of producing talent means those are ten a penny in Gelsenkirchen.

Under Tedesco, however, the American has been turned into an all-action central midfielder, the perfect complement to either Meyer or Leon Goretzka.

- © imago / Team 2

While primarily used defensively, McKennie's attacking game has come on leaps and bounds so far this season, underlined by a goal on his USMNT debut in November. Indeed, given his newfound propensity to shoot on sight, one assumes that a first Schalke goal will not be far off.

That said, McKennie might soon be stopping, rather than scoring goals. During the winter break, Tedesco once again demonstrated his penchant for a positional switch by trying out the teenager in the Naldo role as the central pillar of a three-man defence.

"We wanted to see how he did in that role," said Tedesco. "Weston is robust and good in the air. We never know what could happen."

Amine Harit

Before Tedesco: Winger with more style than substance
After Tedesco: Central creative force driving Schalke's European push

Part of the reason for Meyer's conversion into a holding midfielder par excellence has been the speed with which Harit has developed into one of the Bundesliga's outstanding playmakers.

Signed from Nantes, where he played mainly out wide, the Morocco international was the second-best dribbler in Ligue 1 last season. Under Tedesco, however, Harit has taken up a more central, creative role in attacking midfield, closer to the striker – and appears to be one of the few players liberated by positional responsibility.

Quick, dangerous off both feet and self-described as "good in one-on-one situations," Harit now not only beats men for fun, but also turns defences inside out with one splitting pass after another.

Three goals and an impressive seven assists are testament to that; it is not overstating the case to say that Harit is the key weapon in Schalke's attacking armoury as the Royal Blues continue their assault on the European places.

Interestingly, Tedesco had planned this all along. While most in Europe were swooning over Harit's dribbling abilities, the 32-year-old had seen much more in the youngster's game – hence the protracted chase to sign him. Although still highlighting those dribbling qualities – and they remain a vital part of Harit's game at Schalke – Tedesco insisted upon confirmation of the deal last summer that the Pontoise-born starlet was capable of "finding brave attacking solutions and making the difference". Point proven.

Bastian Oczipka

Before Tedesco: Sturdy left-back or left-sided centre-back
After Tedesco: Rampaging left wing-back with better stats than Kolasinac

Replacing Sead Kolasinac looked to be a tough ask for the Schalke recruitment team; the Bosnia-Herzegovina international was the Royal Blues' best player last term, despite the trying campaign, and his departure for Arsenal left a sizeable hole on the left flank.

Oczipka was perhaps not the obvious man to fill that hole. A solid Bundesliga defender – competent either at left-back or on the left of a back three with previous club Eintracht Frankfurt – his was hardly a signing to get tongues wagging around the Veltins Arena, seeming more of a stop-gap solution.

Yet, under Tedesco's guidance, the 29-year-old has been converted into a flying left wing-back – and essentially a left winger if his rampaging forward runs down the flank are any evidence.