Even when things are going well with Schalke, you’re only ever half-a-mile away from getting a puncture
Sometimes you start out with the idea of a refreshing weekend away in Berlin – and end up tired and nursing a headache. Schalke may have arrived in the capital for Friday’s weekend opener with Hertha full of “new dynamism and new self-confidence”, according to their coach Domenico Tedesco beforehand, but their aim of snaring a third successive Bundesliga win didn’t go to plan.
Not only that, but the hangover will be felt for most of this week, and perhaps beyond. Tedesco could have few complaints over his side’s efforts, which backed his assessment of an upturn towards the output of his debut season. His newly-attacking Schalke led twice in a busy first half via a super effort from range by Yevhen Konoplyanka – restored to the line-up for the banned Weston McKennie – and one from Mark Uth, but were pegged back twice, with Vedad Ibisevic’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time ultimately earning Pal Dardai’s team a point.
At the interval, Tedesco must have been doing a headcount in the dressing room. Having arrived at Olympiastadion without forwards Guido Burgstaller and Breel Embolo, they lost Alessandro Schöpf and Benjamin Stambouli before the break, which made the coherence and presence of their first-half display even more remarkable. Despite their best efforts after the break, they couldn’t quite find the winner and lost another body, with Steven Skrzybski going off with a thigh strain in the last 15 minutes.
If Skrzybski is expected back in a few weeks, the same can’t be said for the other pair. Stambouli’s cheekbone, fractured in an accidental collision with Arne Maier, will require surgery, and the feeling was that Schöpf got off relatively lightly with the knee ligament damage sustained in a crunching challenge by Karim Rekik only likely to keep him out for a maximum of 10 weeks.
Rekik apologised in front of the cameras after the game and on his Instagram account afterwards, but the feeling lingered around some that the Hertha camp had brushed this off quite lightly. Tedesco, whose tough second season has taken in a string of injuries after a tricky start, looked mildly exasperated after the game but praised his players’ resolve.
“It’s important that we remained in the game after the two early injuries,” he said. “We tried to control the game, and we didn’t lose our heads. The guys who came in have at least adequately filled in.” How Schalke will fill in during the medium term is now the question, with the transfer window shutting on Thursday. Die Königsblauen could be the latest Bundesliga club to plunder the British youth market, with strong interest in Manchester City teenager Rabbi Matondo. Atlético Madrid centre-forward Nikola Kalinić is on the shopping list too with the goals hardly flowing in the Hinrunde.
What would almost certainly have been a busy few days anyway for Tedesco and Christian Heidel might now be positively frenetic. City’s interest in Sebastian Rudy as a Fernandinho back-up has been documented, but Stambouli’s injury might put the block on that, as well as Omar Mascarell’s mooted loan move to Stuttgart. Franco Di Santo, who has disappointed in Gelsenkirchen, is still likely to be available.
Tedesco also has to judge if he has a decision to make on Ralf Fährmann, with the captain dropped to the bench last week and Alexander Nübel retaining his place in goal here. As mentioned in last week’s column, there was plenty of rubber-necking at the Schalke bench last week to get a read on Fährmann’s demeanour. His agent, Stefan Backs, saved them the trouble of ruminating by giving an interview to Sport1 in which he described Fährmann as “angry and upset”.
Curiously, Backs is also Nübel’s agent, so he has a balancing act to perform here. Backs was keen to play up the good relationship between the pair – “they don’t just go their own ways after training, but they go out to eat together, and Ralf has taken him under his wing” – but the perception of the mood, and the gravity of Tedesco’s call to include Nübel, had Der Westen comparing the switch to Manuel Neuer replacing Frank Rost back in 2006.
There is a clamour for clarity, just as there had been over Heidel’s position, with Bild reporting last week that the general manager’s contract won’t be extended past 2020. Chairman Clemens Tönnies denied this, telling WAZ the story was “beyond reality”, but it just underlined how combustible Schalke are still considered to be.
Like the trip to Berlin, it underlined that even when things are going well with Schalke, you’re only ever half-a-mile away from getting a puncture. Tedesco knows that by now.
• Borussia Dortmund’s current mood is far less ambiguous. They maintained their six-point lead at the top with a 5-1 win over Hannover, which also marked the first time in over six years that Marco Reus – returning from injury – and Mario Götze had scored in the same match. Of the many fascinating stories surrounding BVB’s resurgence, Götze’s return to relevance is emerging as one of the biggest.
• It ended up being André Breitenreiter’s last match in charge at Hannover. He was sacked and replaced by Thomas Doll, who last coached in the Bundesliga at Dortmund over 10 years ago. Doll’s deal to summer 2020, stressed general manager Horst Heldt, will be seen out whether the 96ers go down or not.
• Manuel Baum might be next. Despite being backed by sporting director Stefan Reuter after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach, the Augsburg coach hardly received a ringing endorsement from defender Martin Hinteregger, who told Bayerischer Rundfunk: “I can’t say anything positive about him, and will say nothing negative.” Gladbach are still just a point shy of Bayern but might be unsettled by a big offer for top scorer Alessane Pléa from Dalian Yifang. Their opening bid is estimated at €40m, not to mention the riches on offer to the Frenchman.
• Bayern’s 4-1 win over Stuttgart was their seventh straight in the Bundesliga, but not always convincing. It all hinged on a spell of less than a minute in the second half, when Nico González had the goal at his mercy but hit Manuel Neuer and then a post, before the hosts were gifted a penalty seconds later. Robert Lewandowski only hit a post but Stuttgart’s chance had been and gone, with Leon Goretzka and Lewandowski’s late goals mopping things up.
• For once, it wasn’t Eintracht Frankfurt’s forwards who were making the headlines, as Kevin Trapp pulled off a string of saves in a 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen, with Ante Rebić and Sébastien Haller each scoring equalisers. It was “a good point for us”, said coach Adi Hütter with some understatement. They host Dortmund on Saturday.