Where once his creative gaze was fixed on picking out the perfect killer pass high up the pitch, these days Schalke’s Max Meyer is digging deeper for an upwardly mobile Miners side that sit second in the Bundesliga standings.
The Domenico Tedesco revolution may still be in its early stages, but Die Knappen’s improvements on last season are already notable. Schalke lost their opening five games of the 2016/17 campaign and at this point last term sat in eighth. As many as six points better off now compared to a year ago and occupying second for the first time in five years, the changes made under new coach Tedesco are reaping impressive rewards.
Watch: Tedesco's tactical masterclass
Now playing in a much deeper lying midfield role and carrying out a far different set of instructions to what he was previously used to, the 22-year-old Meyer is one of those to feel the tactical hand of wise overseer Tedesco.
Excelling in his new-found defensive duties, Meyer’s positional journey follows a similar path to one taken by recently retired Italy supremo, Andrea Pirlo. During his early years at Brescia, the former AC Milan, Juventus and New York City great was asked by coach Carlo Mazzone to revert to a spot just in front of the back four. It was the move that built a footballing legend and an example that Meyer can look to as he continues with his admirable progress in Germany's top division.
“I hadn’t played in [my current] position previously as I always had more of an offensive role,” the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship winner with Germany said. “I’m playing more defensively now and have to win more tackles as a result, but that’s exactly what I’ve been working on [and] it’s been working out quite well.”
Putting in an impressive 7.3 miles during the recent victory against Hamburg, Meyer was only outrun by teammate Weston McKennie in Royal Blue colours, the USMNT international clocking up a game high of 7.8 miles. With just three misplaced passes out of 50 made and 65 touches, it was the Oberhausen-native’s nine winning tackles that will have impressed his coach all the more.
“We are strong at the back and clinical in front of goal lately [and] we are trying to take full advantage of that strong defence,” Meyer told Schalke’s official website. “We almost always score and with that in mind, if we don’t concede, we win! It may look comfortable on the scoresheet, but it was very different out there on the pitch against Hamburg,” Meyer continued.
“[They] got stuck in and were dangerous going forward. They’re a lot further down the table than they deserve to be in my opinion. It was a tough start, but we soon began to get more control of the game.”
And with the four-time senior Germany international revelling in his position in front of a three-man central defence, flanked by roaming full-backs, Schalke appear to be clicking and in all the right places as they set their sights on leaders Bayern Munich.
“Being second is great to enjoy today, but no more than that. It’s all the result of hard work but it doesn’t mean anything at this stage,” Meyer said. “The league is very tight and things could all look differently in just a matter of weeks so we must continue in the same vein and push on. If we do that, we could be in and around the top of the table come the end of the season.”
Next up to take on Meyer and Schalke’s high-pressing, solid defensive side is Borussia Dortmund in what promises to be a riveting Revierderby on Saturday.