The way to the fans heart has always been results. Poor results have always mounted pressure on a manager as well as pulled down the atmosphere of the club, even in Germany, where the club means everything to the fans, where you hardly see an empty sit in the stadium and where the fans sing in full voices for the entire ninety minutes. Schalke appointed David Wagner before the start of the ongoing season due to a dismal outing in the last season, where ‘The Royal Blues’ finished 14th.
Schalke’s start to the season under Wagner, have been good if not overwhelming. Schalke came into the game with a home win against Augsburg. Fortuna Düsseldorf registered an easy win themselves against FC Köln, coming to the match.
Wagner went with a lone forward in Benito Raman, rather than his usual two men upfront to counter the five men defensive set-up of Düsseldorf. A 4-4-1-1 set-up looked more of a 4-2-3-1 in the early minutes. Alessandro Schöpf and Daniel Caligiuri positioned themselves in the left-wing and right-wing respectively. Amine Harit assumed the position behind the lone forward Raman.
Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar acted as the double pivot. Salif Sané was stretched off with an injury against Augsburg which led the American Weston McKennie to act as a makeshift centre-back for the remaining eighty minutes. McKennie started this game as a centre-back alongside Selçuk Kaban. Jonjoe Kenny and Bastian Oczipka assumed their usual positions on either side of Kaban and McKennie. The young prodigy, Alexander Nübel positioned himself between the sticks.
Fortuna Düsseldorf started with 4-4-1-1 formation against FC Köln but Friedhelm Funkel reverted back to his tried and tested method of playing five at the back against Schalke. The five regular defenders acted as a shield to the American Zack Steffen. Alfredo Morales, Adam Bodzek and Matthias Zimmermann sat narrow in the midfield. Dawid Kownacki partnered Rouwen Hennings up top.
Fortuna Düsseldorf transitioned themselves from 5-3-2 in defence to 3-5-2 during attacks. Morales, Bodzek and Zimmermann sat narrow in the midfield hardly giving space for Schalke to move the ball through the centre.
The Düsseldorf forwards, Morales and Zimmermann caged the two Schalke midfielders which often prompted Serdar to drop deep, to open the passing lane for his centre-backs.
It did not work for Schalke as they found difficulty in moving the ball forward as each player was man-marked. Niko Gießelmann marked Kenny as he did the entire match, Kasim Adams and Kaan Ayhan kept tabs on the narrow wingers Caligiuri and Schöpf who tried to occupy the half-spaces between the defenders. Bodzek man-marked Harit quite potently and Mascarell found himself in a cage of Düsseldorf players.
It instigated Wagner to move Mascarell deeper to form a three-man defence line. Mascarell split the centre-backs and what it did was that it found space for the centre-backs to progress the ball forward.
Even though Serdar was caged by the Düsseldorf players. Kabak had enough space to move the ball forward.
Sometimes the Düsseldorf players would even block the passing lane of Kabak and McKennie. When that happened Harit would fall back to open up a passing lane for his defenders.
It drew out midfielders along with him to disrupt the narrow and compact midfield block. Harit’s skills with the ball enabled him to dribble past the midfielders and progress the ball forward.
Sometimes even the centre-backs would play diagonal balls to suddenly overload the opposition wings.
Variations in pressing
Schalke’s effective press is something which is covered by the Total Football Analysis writers most of the times. In every Schalke game, the two Schalke strikers cover the central defenders, while the widest players in the midfield three cover the full-backs. Mascarell acts as the holding midfielder and looks to seal the press, offering cover should any player be beaten while pressing (which was well analysed by Total Football Analysis analyst Cam Meighan).
In this match though, Schalke’s press was not on point. It might be due to the fact that only one forward played in this match.
Schalke who have too many high recoveries, registered only eight in this match which is very far from the 25 high recoveries they made against Borussia Dortmund.
In this sequence of play, Harit moves up and does not aggressively press the Düsseldorf centre-back Ayhan. Raman keeps a body orientation towards the goalkeeper in case the ball is played to him. It leaves a passing lane for Hoffman.
Ayhan passes the ball to Hoffmann who passes it back to Ayhan. Ayhan observes a gap and passes it to Morales who is completely free. Generally, Mascarell seals the press, offering cover should the Schalke players be beaten up the field. But Mascarell was seen nowhere during this sequence of play. Mascarell often dropped deep to form a three-man backline even during opposition attacks. Schalke faced this issue a couple of times in this match.
It is clearly evident from the heat map of Mascarell, the position he occupied throughout the game.
Another aspect of Schalke’s poor pressing was that they did not push more bodies forward to block the passing lanes.
This image portrays the lack of Schalke players moving up in numbers to block the passing lane. Here, Raman presses Adams aggressively. Schöpf who moved infield to block the passing lane has two passing lanes to cover.
He could not press aggressively since if he went up to press Bodzek, Zimmermann would be completely free. It helped Düsseldorf to play out from the back.
Düsseldorf players maintained their position, with the midfielders sitting narrow and compact, and blocked the passing lane of Schalke players.
However, when Schalke tried to build up their attack from the goalkeeper they pressed high.
This will give you an idea of what Funkel wanted from his players. Morales moved up to mark Mascarell who sat deep during the build-up. The two strikers marked Kabak and McKennie. Gießelmann man-marked the Schalke right-back Kenny and Jean Zimmer kept tabs on Oczipka.
However, Düsseldorf too had issues in their pressing. They had man-marked every player but left too much space in between. Here Serdar had enough space to receive a ball and decide on his next action.
Schalke’s first goal
Schalke’s first goal was due to the amalgamation of Wagner’s tactical switch from two-man defence to three-man defence and his wingers moving narrow to occupy the half-space.
It was difficult for the Düsseldorf front-men to man-mark three players which gave Kabak enough time and space to play the ball forward to Caligiuri.
Caligiuri was man-marked by Adams and Hoffmann marked Raman. Caligiuri drew his marker towards himself, played a quick pass to Raman and in the process beat his marker. Raman had enough space to feed Caligiuri for Schalke’s first goal.
It was Wagner’s change in tactics that led to Schalke’s first goal.
Schalke’s five-man attack
Schalke tried to play with five-man attack most of the second half pushing either of the full-backs forward and the other stayed down.
Wagner relied on his players’ skills and movements to lose their markers and thus create chances for themselves.
This picture vividly describes what Wagner wanted from his players. Raman made a deft movement towards the ball carrier, Kabak, which drew Hoffmann out. Harit tried to attack the space left by Hoffmann.
Schöpf provided another option open for Kabak as Harit drew Schöpf’s marker, Ayhan (not in picture) towards himself by making a run. Zimmer is behind Schöpf and a long ball played to him would surely have created a chance for Schalke. Unfortunately for Schalke that did not happen and it did not affect the scoreline.
Too many players forward meant, in case Schalke lost the ball, it would create a chance for Düsseldorf.
Düsseldorf levelled the score second time in the match due to Serdar losing the ball in the opposition box with too many bodies forward.
Serdar progressed the ball to the opposition final third with his dribbling ability after receiving a pass from Harit.
After a few interchanges with his teammates, Serdar found himself on the left flank. He lost the ball to the sub, Erik Thommy.
Thommy found himself in a 3 vs 3 situation and passed the ball to Kownacki to create a 2 vs 2 situation which resulted in a goal for Düsseldorf.
Wagner deserves credit in sensing the situation early on. But his approach, later on, resulted in Düsseldorf equalising for the second time in the match.
Schalke strikers’ drought in front of goal is a cause of concern for Wagner. Not a single striker has opened their account for the season. Mark Uth is scoreless from six games, Raman from five. Burgstaller played ten games this season and is still unable to find the back of the net.
Düsseldorf would be more than happy to earn four points from their last two games which takes them to 13th position, two points ahead of the relegation zone
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