Rückrunde Preview: FC Schalke 04
The shortest ever winter hiatus in German football is about to come to an end, which gives us the opportunity to profile each team's chances in the second half of the campaign as we preview them one by one.
The main focus would be on the top dogs of German football as in the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund et al.
We've already covered Gladbach, Leverkusen and Leipzig in our previous articles, which you can here,
Next up are FC Schalke 04!
Season so far
Things were looking pretty dull for Schalke prior to the start of the season, having sacked head coach Markus Weinzierl in a 'Schalke-esque' way and installing 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco, which only crept in pessimism among fans and experts alike.
However, as we reach the halfway point of the season, Schalke have the been the best team in Germany (not naming Bayern)!
The appointment of Tedesco has worked wonders for the Royal Blues, who are currently second in the Bundesliga table with 30 points.
A highly disciplined and an efficient offensive unit has been the main reason behind their success this season.
Offensively, they have been average or slightly above average with 215 shots with a conversion rate of 9.6% (10th). A tally of 147 shots from open play is also on par with league average. However, it's been their defence which has been very impressive this season.
They have conceded the third least shots in the league (173) as well as conceding only 123 shots from open play, which is, once again, third best in the league.
The resurgence of veteran defender Naldo has been pivotal in their much-improved backline. The Brazilian's vast experience coupled with his ability lead from the back has propelled the side week in week out.
Overall, things have looked very promising for the Ruhr giants as we approach the end of the winter hiatus.
Targets for the second half of the campaign
The Royal Blues will look to continue their good form and seal a place in the Champions League next season. At the start of the season, fans didn't really expect anything more than a top six, meaning Tedesco's side have already exceeded expectations thus far.
However, fans will expect a strong showing in the DFB Cup, where they have been drawn against VfL Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals. A fairly doable task for the Royal Blues.
Reaching the finale could bring joy among the fans, who have been dreaming of silverware for quite a long time now.
Transfer market activity
Even though star midfielder Leon Goretzka has been heavily linked with a move to Bayern, Schalke have done well in the January transfer window.
The Royal Blues have already secured deals for Cedric Teuchert and Mark Uth (who will join in the summer) whilst also agreeing to a season-long loan deal for Juventus attacker Marko Pjaca.
The acquisition of Mark Uth, who will join the club next season, could prove to be one of the smartest pieces of business. Croatian winger Marko Pjaca will boost Tedesco's attacking options for the second half of the season.
Here's a look at what we think has been FC Schalke's strongest lineup has been this season.
Few players worth looking forward to
Leon Goretzka is by far the best Schalke midfielder at the moment who has attracted a series of major transfer interest from European heavyweights.
Although the German international has suffered from injuries this season, his presence will be vital for the club as they aim to replicate their Hinrunde performance in the second half of the campaign. Furthermore, he is tipped to make a big impact in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in the summer, meaning he will definitely be under the microscope for the remainder of the season.
Elsewhere, both Amine Harit and Max Meyer are expected to make an even bigger impact in the Ruckrunde this year. The rejuvenated Meyer has performed remarkably well in his new role of playing as a defensive midfielder and it will be interesting to see whether or not will be able to keep up his consistency throughout the campaign.
Overall, it's looking very promising for Tedesco and his men, who are expected to perform well in the second half of the campaign.
Maintaining the defensive solidity should be the primary objective for the Royal Blues while the acquisitions of Pjaca and Teuchert will definitely revitalise their attacking department.
Furthermore, they also have the DFB Pokal to look forward to, where they have a strong chance of reaching the final. It might be their best chance of winning a silverware this season.