The good news is that the there are more goals scored in the Bundesliga than in any of the major European leagues. The bad news is that there are more goals conceded in the Bundesliga than in any of the major European leagues and at Schalke 04 they have conceded more than most. That's right the team that has a 100% record in the Champions League finds itself leakier than Nürnberg, Augsburg and yes, Werder Bremen. Die Knappen find themselves closer to the bottom of the Bundesliga table and their coach Jens Keller is under intense scrutiny as doubts continue to be raised about his acumen and fitness to look after a group of players that, not undeservedly, finished fourth in the table last season.
The moderately bizarre aspect of all this Kellerangst is that he, Keller, is largely responsible for the Gelsenkirchen club’s position last season. The former youth coach who “enjoyed” a brief stint as coach of Stuttgart took over from Huub Stevens relatively early last season and in the view of many, he has been unsuitable as a coach despite guiding Schalke through to the second round of the Champions League and seeing them into the group stages of that competition, this season while beating the reigning German champions and arch rivals Borussia Dortmund along the way.
Perhaps it is that hang-dog look that tend dominates his visage even when he smiles (and he does smile) or his lack of pedigree as a head coach that fails to inspire confidence. Or maybe there is the sense that no matter what he does there is probably someone else, someone better out there and that Schalke, as one of the biggest and most traditional clubs in Germany, deserve someone better.
Or maybe it’s just a bunch of trouble makers that don’t support the club and are looking for a pretext to write a blog ahead of what promises to be a tricky game against Augsburg…
In any event, Keller is still there and since his arrival we have seen the rise to prominence of Julian Draxler and very recently Max Meyer. Plus he has integrated Kevin Prince Boateng into the side with very little effort. Where he falls down is in those pesky goals conceded and in that respect he is not alone.
Schalke’s relatively poor position in the table stems from a poor start. Points dropped at home to Hamburg and defeats at Wolfsburg and Hannover were followed by wins against Mainz and impressively Bayer Leverkusen. However, just when it looked like things were getting under control, along came Bayern who cut them down 4-0. That was followed by a 3-3 draw with the goal crazy Hoffenheim, in which Keller watched his team take a 3-1 lead only watched it get spunked away by a series of defensive howlers. The team’s focus was called into question, specifically that of long serving midfielder Jermaine Jones who was left out of the subsequent Champions League squad.So after seven games it’s not looking too rosy and once again questions have been asked about the coach’s fitness for the post.
The thing is though, despite their rocky League start, Schalke are getting it done in Europe. PAOK may not be the strongest team on the continent but can easily provide a banana skin for any team that is struggling for form. Steaua Bucharest may be the weakest team in their subsequent Champions League group but they still need beating and beaten they were, at home and by three goals to nil. Add to that the impressive win over the Chelsea conquering FC Basel and a tricky DFB Pokal win at Darmstadt and the seemingly bleak picture is highlighted with a few more vivid brush strokes.
Nevertheless, until things improve in the league it will be difficult to shake the feeling that Schalke are succeeding despite Keller rather than because of him. What better opportunity then than to beat a traditional minnow in the shape of FC Augsburg? Except that FCA are higher in the table and after two seasons of holding on the Bundesliga precipice by their fingernails, coach Markus Weinzierl has a assembled a squad of hard working journeymen who are willing to battle for every inch of space on the pitch and while there are more interesting teams in the league, Augsburg are a good example of the kind of bastard hard teams to beat that you find in European top divisions and in attacking midfielder, André Hahn, they have a player who bears closer scrutiny.
That being said, Augsburg are more than beatable and so long as Schalke can survive 90 minutes with a well-disciplined defense then they will be well worth the three points which should be enough to keep the Keller doubters at bay, at least for the time being.
Photo from official Schalke 04 website.