Schalke Season Preview: Can Huub Stevens' men fill the gap left by Raúl?
By John Fernandez
Schalke’s off-season has seen a host of departures from the Veltins-Arena, both off and on the pitch.
Tim Hoogland and Peter Kluge’s departures will both be difficult to offset as they provided valuable experience for the team’s youngsters; however the relatively youthful squad has added another year of top-flight football to its résumé.
Raúl’s departure means the hole behind striker Klas-Jean Huntelaar is one place in need of strengthening. 18-year-old Julian Draxler seems the perfect fit for that role and he’ll want to improve on his two goals and three assists from last season as he comes of age.
The defence has strength in depth with strong centre halves in Benedikt Höwedes, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Joël Matip, while both Atsuto Uchida and Christian Fuchs are reliable performer’s at the full back positions.
Movements to Schalke 04 have been sparse this transfer window with only three players arriving while 9 have gone the other way.
Chinedu Obasi’s arrival will provide an understudy and cover, should ‘The Hunter’ suffer any injuries. Tranquillo Barnetta in midfield will fit in as a good rotational figure on the flanks and worthy competition to young Louis Holtby and Jefferson Farfán.
Roman Neustadter’s arrival from Borussia Monchengladbach will be a massive boost to DieKönigsblauen’s midfield, and he and American Jermaine Jones will be the driving force of the side.
The biggest movement however was off the pitch as Coach Ralf Rangnick resigned and was replaced by Huub Stevens, who brings with him a wealth of International and European experience.
The removal of Raúl from the wage bill was an important move for the new manager, but it will be the proverbial cash cow, the Champions League, that will provide the biggest boost to the clubs finances after finishing 3rd in last season’s Bundesliga.
The highest climbers in last year’s Deloite Football Money League will look to add to the squad to ensure a return to Europe’s top club competition next season, and rumours have pointed to Tottenham Hotspurs’ Rafael van der Vaart moving east to the Bundesliga.
Spending has been extremely sensible at the club over the past few seasons and the promotion of players like Julian Draxler and Leiws Holtby from the youth teams have meant that transfer spending has not been excessive.
A grounded approach to wages and a massive fanbase (the 2nd largest in German football) means that Schalke are one of the few top clubs in Europe who are financially very secure.
It’s difficult to look away from their star forward, Huntelaar, when searching for a star performer in Rangnick’s side.
He finished as the team’s top scorer in all competitions with a massive 48 goals in 2011/12and topped the Bundesliga scoring charts with 29 goals. His predatory instincts coupled with his power make him an ideal focal point for the Schalke attack.
However Lewis Hotlby’s influence is not to be underestimated this season as it may have been a year ago, while defender Christian Fuchs is another who cannot be overlooked after his 11 assists in all competitions from defence.
Schalke’s additions coupled with the maturing qualities of its young squad mean that this season should result in better fortunes and a 2nd place finish for Die Königsblauen. Borrusia Dortmund have lost plenty and gained only Reus this summer meaning Schalke could be the ones battling Bayern Munich to the title.
A successful season though for Huub Stevens’ men will again need The Hunter to find scoring form early, and for whoever replaces Raúl to fit in early and hit double figures for goals this season.