Gelsenkirchen - It was a vital victory. FC Schalke 04’s 2-1 success over 1. FSV Mainz 05 in Matchday 4’s conclusion was not only the perfect preparation for Thursday’s start of the UEFA Europa League, but also an indication that there is most certainly life after Julian Draxler.
That much was evident when the Royal Blues launched yet another fast-paced counter-attack, this one in the 86th minute, which ended with substitute Leroy Sane rolling the ball to Max Meyer, whose powerful shot came within inches of adding a third goal. As impressive as the fluidity and telepathic understanding, though, was the fact that both are only 19 years of age.
Indeed, with Draxler departing for VfL Wolfsburg on deadline day, both now have the chance to stake a claim for the vacant attacking midfield role. It was Meyer who, on his 66th Bundesliga appearance, impressed particularly on Sunday. His craft and trickery caused the visitors no end of problems and he left the field in the 90th minute to warm applause.
Delivering an equally virtuoso display deeper in midfield was Meyer’s close friend, Leon Goretzka. “We were finally in the starting line-up together, so we were really pleased,” explained the 20-year-old Goretzka, who was determined to impress after spending the two previous games on the bench. “You could see how much we enjoyed it out there.”
'I want to feature regularly'
Goretzka also received a standing ovation - not merely for his efforts in leading his side’s pressing, but also as a reward for an outstanding performance. “I was really motivated and wanted to make sure that came through in how I played,” he said. While the former Bochum man ran his socks off, Schalke’s high tempo was dictated by his partner in holding midfield, the 22-year-old Johannes Geis. The pair were the youngest in their position in the Bundesliga on Matchday 4, further proof, if it were needed, that there is life after Draxler.
Goretzka, however, is very much focussed on Schalke’s future, particularly the intense run of six games in 17 days, which begins with Thursday’s trip to Cyprus to face APOEL FC in the Europa League. “Obviously, I want to feature regularly from the start,” continued Goretzka, eager to impress after an injury-hit 2014/15 campaign. “But we all know that we have a really busy schedule coming up and will need each and every player.”
Recipe for success?
If coach Andre Breitenreiter does alter things in Nicosia, then it is likely that midfielder Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg, who joined from FC Bayern München late in the summer, will be handed a Royal-Blue debut. Just 20, he will do little to increase the average age, but there is a sense at Schalke that is how the new man in charge likes it.
Since Draxler’s departure, Breitenreiter has made a concerted effort to remove any pressure from his starlets. “Let’s give our young talents a chance to develop,” said the coach. “That could prove a successful recipe, after all, and it might be fun in the meantime.”