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Still number three? Meet the Real Schalke

Spanish and Real Madrid legend Raul will not lead the Schalke line this season. The club hasn't really replaced him, partly because of famous financial frailty but also due to the young squad's existing potential.

Schalke coach Huub Stevens is getting a little tired of "the Raul-question," as he called it at the top of an interview with the German mass-circulation paper Bild pre-season. And well he might, the loss of the 35-year-old creative forward is surely the biggest summer story surrounding Schalke.

That does not make it the most significant, though, and Stevens says he knows the answer to the question anyway.

Huub Stevens headcoach of Schalke 04 smiles during a press conference in Plzen, Czech Republic, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.

Stevens has to talk more about Raul than the players he still has

"It's really obvious: You simply cannot replace a player like that one-for-one, it will only be possible as a collective," the Dutch international turned Bundesliga coaching veteran told Bild.

Resist the urge to reach for the violins, lamenting the loss of a veteran virtuoso and a Schalke balance sheet so smattered in red ink that summer shopping was out of the question. The Raul cloud has a silver lining; Schalke's other stars can step out of his shadow.

Together, they are still strong

German legend Franz Beckenbauer considers this year's Bundesliga to be a two-horse race - an opinion that scores him a meager one out of ten on the originality scale - but he's willing to offer a bold prediction on the third power.

"Schalke is the clear number three in Germany," Beckenbauer said on Sky Germany. "Raul will be missed, but on the performance front it did make sense to let him go."

Benedikt Höwedes (dapd)

Young captain Benedikt Höwedes is a key figure at the back

Still not convinced? Take Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp's word for it instead. Klopp told football magazine Kicker that it was pointless to debate Raul's brilliance as he was, without question, a legend in the game.

"But Schalke were already extremely well armed going forward last season, and in [Lewis] Holtby and [Julian] Draxler, they have two huge talents for this [Raul's] position," Klopp said. "They also work a little harder defensively than Raul did, even if he could put the odd ball into the back of the net with a bit more panache. I do not believe that Schalke have become even one iota weaker."

Next-generation maestros

Schalke still have last season's top scorer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, at the sharp end of their attack - at least until his contract runs out next summer. With the proper service, the 29-year-old has proven himself a lethal presence up front, but he's not one to carve out his own chances. The battle will be won or lost behind the Dutchman - and Schalke ooze talent, if not depth, in attacking midfield.

Lewis Holtby is arguably the youngest complete midfielder in the league. Still only 21, he has proven himself a dangerous dribbler, skilled playmaker and solid shooter - yet he prefers to play a withdrawn role in the midfield and pull the strings from deep. And in the rough-and-tumble world of defensive midfield, he's quite capable of holding his own. The German U21 captain now needs to take a leader's role at club level.

Lewis Holtby dribbles away from an opponenet in a Bundesliga match

Holtby is already Schalke's first midfield port of call, now he needs to take charge of the team

On the right wing, Schalke's clear first choice is Peruvian international Jefferson Farfan. A set piece specialist with pace, power and a wicked cross, Farfan is among the best in the league when he has his own temperament under control.

The club's other superstar, at least superstar in waiting, is Julian Draxler. Draxler already has a Germany cap, aged 18. He made Joachim Löw's preliminary squad for Euro 2012, and it's little wonder that the national coach has taken an early interest.

Despite his age, Draxler has demonstrated a remarkable array of gifts. He's more of an attacking midfielder than Holtby - comfortable taking players on, happy to play through the middle or out wide, and he's a capable crosser even with his weaker left foot. On his favored right, Draxler is a threat to the goal from the most outlandish range. After much talk of a shaky pre-season, Draxler went and bagged a brace in the German Cup against Saarbrücken at the weekend.

Julian Draxler winds up to shoot in a German Cup game against Nuremberg

Julian Draxler could have the most potential of any teenager in the Bundesliga

Midfield for nothing, and a goalie for free

Stevens talked at length in his interview with Bild about the inability to spend money to strengthen the squad owing to Schalke's protracted flirtation with insolvency over the years. A wily veteran, Stevens made no mention of the rather significant summer signings he has made.

Tranquilo Barnetta and Roman Neustädter could prove to be the best-value acquisitions of the season. They won't need to do much to live up to their price tags, having arrived for free.

Tranquillo Barnetta in pre-season training

A broken Barnetta? Or the bargain of the summer?

Swiss international Barnetta had a miserable, injury-plagued outing last season, but at his best he was one of Bayer Leverkusen's brightest. Happiest on the left wing, the two-footed 27-year-old is indefatigable, experienced and dangerous from set pieces.

Roman Neustädter was a member of Gladbach's high-flyers last season, and is another solid influence in defensive midfield for Schalke. Though he might not replace veteran US international Jermaine Jones immediately, the 24-year-old will be eying that spot.

In goal, 33-year-old German journeyman Timo Hildebrand is likely to suit up, again at no cost to the Royal Blues. Behind him, Lars Unnerstall and Ralf Fährmann are both able replacements with their careers ahead of them.

Spread too thin?

Schalke's back line is similar to the rest of the squad - strong, but with a weak underbelly.

Left-back Christian Fuchs is likely to start with his cultured left boot, captain Benedikt Höwedes can play anywhere in defense to the highest standard, while Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Atsuto Uchida and Joel Matip all have international caps under their belts.

Two or three nasty injuries, perhaps sustained as Schalke also fight in the Champions League, could quickly leave any area of the squad looking rather threadbare.

Schalke have not won the German league since 1958, before the Bundesliga's inception. That record is not likely to fall this year, as Stevens himself has said. But for title holder Dortmund, the Royal Blues remain the team to beat.

Real Madrid was long nicknamed Raul Madrid. Now, with Raul gone, it's time for the Real Schalke to step forward.