Can Schalke Take Another Step Forward?
The team with the best shorts in the league took a step forward last season after a disastrous 2014-15 campaign where they were outshot by 119. Climbing back to basically par shots and territory wise last year was a stabilizing step good enough for Europa in a league where so much of the positive side of the ledger goes to the top 2. Now they've traded one young big-money prospect in Leroy Sané for another in Breel Embolo and have brought in a new coach to try and push their young team to make the next step.
In: Breel Embolo 22.5m (Basel), Coke 4m (Sevilla), Abdul Rahman Baba 1 year loan (Chelsea), Naldo Free (Wolfsburg)
Out: Leroy Sané, Joel Matip, Roman Neustädter, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
Key Passing Combos
Johannes Geis might have been a truck driver in another life. Distance is no problem for him and heck a long-haul gives you more time to enjoy the view right? That's how he plays all over the pitch. No one took shots from further out than Geis, who had over half of his shots come from set-pieces:
No non-CB or GK played further passes than Geis
and for good measure he adds being the league leader in share of passes played to the wings, alongside several other Schalke players:
I admit I was fooled a bit last year when I talked about the Geis transfer in glowing terms for Schalke. He's a guy that at first glance has solid raw attacking numbers as a high-volume passer but the deeper you look the more holes you can find. His shots are basically completely useless and the length with which he sweeps balls to the sidelines is not the ideal way to build an attack.
His defense was apparently not elite either. Maybe the most worrying metric is the Schalke team defense map in the center of their half. The green represents the pass rating (basically a rough tool to adjust completion % to account for where a pass starts and ends) and the Excel heat maps are always greener in the Schalke midfield.
I can't put that all on Geis, but clearly he's not a defensive difference-maker on his own. Geis still is a useful player but would really benefit from a coach showing him these charts and trying to cut back on at least the long sweeping balls to the flanks. Don't have to cut cold turkey, but you don't want to head into your mid-20s as that guy, he's 22 now and it's time to start building better habits.
Max Meyer is another guy where the raw numbers might paint a bit too rosy of a picture. He had a fantastic passing percentage at 85.2% but was much further from goal to start with on average than most attackers and was one of only 9 players whose average pass was played backwards. His key passes also ended with their recipients further from goal than anyone else's.
We saw Meyer on the chart above as a guy who loves to spray it to the edges and we also see Leon Goretzka on that list. The entire passing system of those three put together doesn't progress toward goal in many significant directions especially when you consider Sané is gone.
This helps explain why Schalke don't have any reliable attacking combos they could go to around opponents goal to create a shot. In the Gladbach preview we talked about the Stindl-Raffael combo being a reliable, high volume combo in the attacking third that helped the Foals set up shop. Schalke have no such connection, their most common attacking combo is only the leagues 37th most common (Kolasinac-Choupo-Moting). Part of this is explained by fullbacks splitting time. The only other combo in the top 100 was Sané-Meyer and the reverse. With Sané gone Schalke have a pretty big task ahead trying to build an attacking framework. Goretzka improved last year but will need to get the ball further forward this season if Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar and Embolo are going to be able to reliably get the ball in good attacking positions.
A strange thing is how rarely Goretzka and Geis played the ball to each other, each way only about 4 times per game. Both just quickly look wide instead of progressing the ball between themselves.
One Big Strength:
The largest video-cube in Europe.
Great sign for the sport teams across Europe begin to catch up to lower-tier SEC football teams in size of video boards. My tip: stop paying transfer fees and player salaries and you can afford bigger video boards and join the big boys.
A real strength is they were pretty devastating when actually reaching the opponents danger zone. The 3rd-shortest danger pass distance went hand-in-hand with the league's 3rd best danger zone completion%.
One Weinzierl Tic to Watch
That's something to watch this season. Coke and Abdul Rahman Baba were presumably the two starters this season but with Coke's injury, the right side will need to be patched up for a while. Better right than left as Sascha Riether was Schalke's best fullback last year, even at his ripe old age of 33. Junior Caicara started in the Cup, but I still think he's well behind Trusty Old Sascha.
Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Man With a Plan
He's one of the more prepared players in the league and the way he prepares can be a template for analysts thinking about what information to provide players. He studies a ton of tape on opposition fullbacks to determine which foot they go into tackles with, whether they lay off or approach high up the pitch, how far they will go outside their zones, and if they like to leave the ground to try and win balls or not. For an analyst working with Schalke, he seems like a dream player to work with as you should be able to give him tons of reports/clips that you already know he appreciates. Schalke really need to work out their midfield just to reward Choupo-Moting with more dangerous touches, last year the left side was even tougher to work from than Sané as Choupo-Moting had a couple extra yards to work through when he received the ball. He's a guy to root for for all of us who spend way too much time analyzing this game.
Good Season: Shots, territory, shots on target are no longer flirting with par all season and push well above 0. Stay closer to 3rd than 5th/6th.
Bad Season: Play still stifled far out on the wings too often, they don't develop attacking combos and the lack of speed from Meyer and Geis keep them from going the full-Leicester and becoming a great counter team. Another muddled, mediocre 6th-7th place finish.