It has been a roller coaster 18 months for the Schalke manager. A whirlwind romance that started volatile, but grew quite passionate in a short amount of time, as your typical Italian love affair does.
Reading up on our man Tedesco, I was surprised how much respect the young man had from previous managers and players. Looking up his methods with FC Erzgebirge Aue, he took a struggling club at the foot of 2.Bundesliga, with only eleven games and found a way to save them from relegation. I was so intrigued by the man Tedesco, that I penned an article about him here.
We shall leave out the personnel moves he made upon arrival. Let us stick to the tactics. Domenico Tedesco switched what seemingly had always been a back four at Schalke, to a back three. Formation wise, Tedesco played a similar philosophy to that of Julian Nagelsmann. The Hoffenheim boss was not only a mentor, but a friend and former colleague. It is only natural that he would be so ingrained in a system used by Nagelsmann. That would only be the baseline though.
The Schalke manager lined his team up with a 3-4-3 formation for the majority of the time, though you would see some variation of this in 90% of his matches, no matter the formation he used. At first glance, a three man defense seems susceptible to attack. Common knowledge says three is less than four, hence, more opportunities for the opposition. The midfield is comprised with two wing backs who have pivotal roles in a Tedesco line-up. On defense, the wing backs act as two extra defenders, to make up a back five. Solid defenses are a staple for Tedesco, something Schalke had been missing for years. In attack, the wing backs would push up to give the numerical advantage.
This tactical style blitzed the Bundesliga last campaign to a second place finish. Though not the prettiest football, it was definitely to the point. Clinical when their opportunities arose, stout defensively and possession based. A recipe for success. It appeared Schalke were at the dawn of a new Tedesco-led era.
It is funny how a summer can change it all.
It must be said, enthusiasm heading into this season was at a new high. Schalke fans were wondering if they could unhinge the Kaisers from the top of the perch, Bayern Munchen. Christian Heidel, Schalke General Manager, brought in an array of talent, filling what holes needed to be filled. Names like Salif Sane, Mark Uth, Suat Serder, Omar Mascarell were just some of the names. The transfer window had the cherry on top when Schalke stole Sebastian Rudy away from their title rivals Bayern. This had to be the year for Schalke.
The season began with five consecutive loses, and though Schalke were able to get some results, they continued to play inconsistently. That inconsistency has kept the club towards the relegation end of the table, rather than the top. So what has changed?
If you look at it in terms of tactics, a lot has changed. Tedesco at times seems to try and out think himself. Last season, you not only had the same formation for the majority of the time, but also a similar core of players on the pitch in similar positions every game.
This season, I can think of at least six different formations used, and I am sure I am forgetting some. The tactical genius that is Tedesco, and he is that, has often tried too much. A lot of this spawned from the awful 0-5 start. A lack of offense and poor results forced Tedesco’s hand. Schalke were not known for their goal output last season, but at least they scored consistently. This season has been pulling teeth in terms of goal scoring.
Tedesco’s now famed defense is still there, though it has a propensity to leak goals more now than before. Still, Schalke boast one of the better defenses in the league still. At a loss for goal scoring, Tedesco has opted to think outside the box and find ways to create attacks.
Injuries have also forced Tedesco’s hand with lineup changes. Heck, in the Revierderby in December, Schalke boasted an attacking strike force of midfielder Weston McKennie and left back Hamza Mendyl. Yes, Schalke had a left back and midfielder as their main striking pair.
To be fair to the Schalke manager, at one point this season, Schalke were without the services of Guido Burgstaller, Mark Uth, Steven Skrzybski, Breel Embolo, Cedric Teuchert and Franco Di Santo at the same time. The entire striker lineup for the senior squad, out with injury. Because of injury, Schalke have had to call up American Haji Wright, who has given himself a chance now with the squad.
Since we are on the American kick, let us talk about Weston McKennie. The young American has played in every position this season, except goalie. Yes, he’s played defense and striker in the same season. If I looked back at last season, I probably could not say I remember any player playing more than one position. Some of this tactical mishegoss, is because of injury, but the other part of it is Tedesco pushing buttons, trying to get an advantage on the opponent with his versatile squad.
No matter what you think of the tactics implored by Tedesco, the results are the same and two things stick out at the core of all of it. They were pivotal in last season’s successes and instrumental in this year’s demise. Finishing and wing back play. Sure the defense has had some mental lapses, at times, more than once in a game. However, the lack of finishing and lack of wing back play is the main source.
Last season you never thought Schalke were out of it because you knew they would score. The same cannot be said about this season. A big factor in last year’s goals were the play of Bastian Oczipka and Daniel Caligiuri, who worked tirelessly offensively to create crosses from open play and set pieces for strikers to put away. This season Oczipka has been injured most of the Hinrunde and Caligiuri has not looked the same as he did last season. Both players were always in the attacking third during Schalke’s success last season, yet this campaign, the play from whomever are in those wing back positions, hasn’t given us the same results or play.
Schalke has brought in help to the coaching staff by bringing back Seppo Eickhorn to try and give his offense a boost. What Schalke have to hope for is a healthy strike team, and Oczipka/Caligiuri partnership to blossom once again, as it did last season. The one glimmering light that Schalke and Domenico Tedesco can hang their hat on? Schalke sit just nine points from a European place. As grim as this season has seemed, they can be thankful that they somehow are still within reach of getting back to Europe and salvaging a season to forget.