Schalke went into last season’s winter break in 10th place, some 21 points behind then leaders Bayern Munich. Fast forward one year and the Royal Blues still trail the defending champions, but are now leading a tight-knit chasing pack in second.
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A gamble on 32-year-old coach Domenico Tedesco has paid off brilliantly for the Ruhr Valley giants, who opened the current campaign with a 2-0 victory against last season’s second-place finishers RB Leipzig.
Watch: Domenico Tedesco's tactical masterclass
As they looked to adapt to Tedesco’s ways, Schalke suffered successive losses against Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim early on, but they have since embarked on an astonishing 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions, racking up five top-flight wins during that impressive sequence.
Yet it was a draw against Revierderby rivals Borussia Dortmund in November that was arguably the stand-out result for Tedesco’s men, trailing as they were by 4-0 at the Westfalenstadion before displaying immense team spirit to claw back to 4-4.
Watch: Highlights of Schalke's improbable draw in Dortmund
Leon Goretzka, Weston McKennie, Max Meyer, Guido Burgstaller, Naldo - the list of players deserving individual praise reads long. But it is coach Tedesco himself – in what is his first season coaching in the Bundesliga – who is surely the standout figure in Schalke’s revolution.
Bringing defensive solidity and reimagining the roles played by Germany Under-21 European champion Meyer and FIFA Confederations Cup winner Goretzka have been among several of the tactician’s masterstrokes. "He has a God-given gift [for coaching]," goalkeeper and captain Ralf Fährmann said of the man in charge.
American teen McKennie made his Bundesliga bow in 2016/17, and has made such immense progress this term that the Texan earned a senior debut for the USA. That he also found the target in that 1-1 friendly draw against European champions Portugal speaks volumes for the Schalke midfielder’s confidence. Having made 14 Bundesliga appearances this season, McKennie looks set for a spectacular rise with the Gelsenkirchen outfit.
- Schalke are unbeaten in their last 11 Bundesliga games, their longest run for almost 11 years.
- The Royal Blues have ended the first half of the season above rivals Dortmund for the first time since 2014/15.
- As many as 13 of Schalke’s 28 Bundesliga goals so far this season have come from set pieces.
Devoid of European competition for the first time in eight years, the goal for the Miners must be to kick on from their impressive opening to the campaign in order to seal a return to the UEFA Champions League by achieving a top-four finish in 2017/18.