What's Wrong with Schalke?

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Since the Bundesliga’s return to play, no team has been more disappointing than Schalke 04. They’ve lost four in a row since coming back, with three of against teams in the bottom half of the table and two against teams in the relegation zone. For a team with Schalke’s resources, they should never be struggling this much. The fact that this underperforming has been consistent for years deserves a deeper analysis, but for the sake of this post I’ll be looking at what is driving the current struggles.

It only takes a quick look at the Bundesliga table to know why Schalke’s been struggling – they can’t score enough goals. They’ve scored only 34 on the year – equal to Union Berlin and above only the three teams currently in the relegation zone. So, what is driving those issues?

Finishing and Shot Volume

There are a couple main aspects to look at when evaluating why a club isn’t scoring – are they not getting enough shots, or are they not doing enough to finish the shots that they do create? From there you can evaluate the deeper issues.

In Schalke’s case, finishing doesn’t seem to be the bigger issue. They’ve turned 10.2% of their shots and 30.9% of their shots on target into goals. Those rank 11th and 12th in the Bundesliga respectively – not great, but not the main cause of their issues. Shots, on the other hand, have been a consistent issue. Schalke’s created the third fewest shots in the league and put the fourth fewest on target.

Not only do these point to the major issues for Schalke, but also leads to which of the recent losses should be the most concerning. Even though the 3-0 loss to Augsburg is concerning on the surface, the biggest ongoing concern it would raise would be around goalkeeping. Schalke actually had over 70% of the possession in the match, and led in shots 12-9. Their issue was accuracy, putting only two on target compared to Augsburg’s seven. The Werder Bremen match is even more extreme – Schalke doubled Werder Bremen in shots, but only put one of their twelve on net. Obviously neither of these matches are encouraging, but since accuracy hasn’t been a consistent issue they don’t concern me as much moving forward.

Dusseldorf 2 – Schalke 1

The match that does concern me is the loss to Dusseldorf (even if it’s the only one where Schalke managed to score). Schalke was outshot 13-8 and completed only 63% of their passes. The issue that becomes apparent here is that Schalke lacks an offensive threat in the center of the midfield. Weston McKennie scored the only goal for Schalke, but is much more effective defensively – he completed only 59% of his passes against Dusseldorf.

Schalke’s heatmap for the match backs this up – their possession was almost entirely down the two wings, and they only managed to show an ability to get into the attacking third down the left. Unlike the shooting accuracy, this is a recurring issue for Schalke. The club’s leader in assists this year is Bastian Oczipka at left back/wing back with only five; that’s also concerning because Oczipka’s a strong crosser of the ball, but Schalke hasn’t been able to generate many chances from crosses overall.

The issue this points to is that Schalke doesn’t have a threat in the middle to keep teams honest, or to provide more than one avenue for creating opportunities. Some of this is a result of Schalke’s tactics in these matches focusing on creating threats from wide, but it also points to a lack of offensive talent in the middle. If the ball does come to the center at all, it’s likely to either be turned over or at least not advanced up the field. That’s especially true with Amine Harit out, though his four assists for the season don’t point to an effective enough threat to be the main focus.

Finding an offensive playmaker who can create chances in the middle must be a priority for Schalke going forward. If it’s not in the transfer market, then David Wagner needs to find a way to adjust tactics to better suit the strengths of those in the middle. Oczipka can be extremely valuable, including in his crossing of the ball, but that won’t benefit them if there aren’t other ways for Schalke to benefit from the space he creates. That additional path to creating scoring opportunities is vital for Schalke to fix its goalscoring woes moving forward.

All stats pulled from WhoScored.com

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#bundesliga #schalke

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