One couldn’t help but notice the headlines being all about Borussia Dortmund losing rather than Schalke winning the Revierderby. But then again, most English papers have little idea of the renaissance taking place at Schalke under Domenico Tedesco.
The full-time whistle pretty much summed up the game; Schalke, who hadn’t beaten their arch-rivals in more than three-and-a-half years, were ecstatic. Manager Tedesco, termed as a ‘laptop coach’, couldn’t restrain himself as he fell to his knees in elation. Later, he joined the fans at the Nordkurve to celebrate the win despite initial hesitation.
Tedesco later modestly revealed, "It's a nice feeling, a privilege. But the whole team would have had to go up, not the coach.”
Despite not playing the most attractive football, Schalke once again came out on top. But what has been the difference?
The winning feeling…
It would be an understatement to say the club has been mismanaged for years. Under new Sporting Director Christian Heidel, there was renewed hope that the club will awaken from their slumber and challenge for trophies regularly.
Heidel transformed Mainz 05 from a second division club to a Europa League side at one point in time, so the expectations weren’t implausible. But it was always going to take time.
The first thing the club needed was stability. Since Jens Keller’s departure in 2014, no manager could survive more than 50 games. The club had four managers in as many seasons.
The mission was to get the team to play good football. It’s good to have ambition, but because Schalke were in such a bad mess, getting a team of players devoid of any confidence was easier said than done.
And so it proved. The team could barely score goals, let alone win games.
Last season began with five defeats and only once could they manage three wins on the trot. They ended the season in 10th place with 11 wins - hardly good enough for a manager to keep his job. The season before that, Schalke managed 52 points, three behind fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach.
While it wasn’t the worst performance, Heidel took over that summer and he had someone else in mind for the role. He would later realise how wrong he was as the club struggled under Markus Weinzierl.
A lot was said during the last two campaigns, but nothing on the club’s bygone winning mentality. It was all about aesthetics and how the team should play to get results.
Enter Domenico Tedesco.
Germany has had its revolution of juicing the stats and drawing a succinct correlation between the numbers and the game. Like Julian Nageslmann, Tedesco is a bright young coach who believes in his ideology which is very simply knowing how to win a game. He’s Italian, so are you really that surprised?
Behind the “30% tactics, 70% social competence”, retort Nagelsmann is a manager who knows what his team needs to do on the pitch to win games. Tedesco isn’t as audacious with the mic, of course, but someone who has the balls to drop their captain – Benedikt Howedes – and strip him of the captaincy is no slouch, is he?
After all, Tedesco didn’t just enter the football scene despite having a degree in Innovation Management for just watching underperforming stars play in the first team.
“I always want my teams to divide the space well. I like to compare it to a boxer, who should never let his guard down.” - Domenico Tedesco
If you’ve watched Schalke this season, you will have noticed the incredible work the team put off the ball. The shape of the team has been the best in years. Despite playing Benjamin Stambouli and Max Meyer - a defensive midfielder and a number 10 respectively - out of position, the team has the second-best defensive record in the Bundesliga.
The defence comes first philosophy might not be the most pleasing to the eye, but Schalke needed to go back to the simplest form of playing football to bring back the winning feeling. Their counter-attacks have been effective this season and the first goal against Dortmund this past weekend was just another example.
You attack the opposition when they are at their weakest. In football terms, we’re looking at the transitions here. The team is weakest when they are transitioning from attack to defence and that is where Schalke are at their effective best.
No champagne football, just put in the dirty work and pick up the win.
Take this team seriously
The indomitable spirit Schalke have shown this season shows the game is never truly over till the fat lady sings. The derby comeback in November will be etched in Revierderby history as the best ever, but the late comeback against Eintracht Frankfurt when the team were 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go was equally good.
It would take a massive drop in form for Schalke to drop out of the Champions League spots in the remaining games. Complacency is one thing you can’t associate with Tedesco. Barring a couple of times when the team went winless for three games, Schalke have managed to bounce back after negative results.
Take for instance their defeat to Hamburg almost a fortnight ago. After managing six wins on the trot, Hamburg shocked Die Königsblauen 3-2 at home. Tedesco’s men bounced back strongly in the Ruhr Derby.
Finishing the season second after last campaign’s 10th place finish would be some achievement. But the fans will hope their team can beat Eintracht Frankfurt and make it to the final of the DFB Pokal - a tournament they last won in 2011.Published 17 Apr 2018, 22:32 IST