Can Weinzierl finally solve Schalke′s puzzle? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 20.08.2016
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Can Weinzierl finally solve Schalke's puzzle?

After another underwhelming campaign, Schalke acted decisively in the close season and now have a new sports director and coach. Can Markus Weinzierl and Christian Heidel finally solve the Bundesliga’s biggest riddle?

They are the 14th richest club in the world and among the best supported teams in Germany but, despite sporadically threatening, Schalke have never won the Bundesliga.

While that is unlikely to change this season, the constantly lofty expectations of the club's 140,000 members look to finally have some foundation.

Former Mainz sporting director Heidel has already put his contacts book to good use, with some promising signings made early enough in the transfer window for the players to be integrated quickly. The new arrivals, coupled with a clutch of talented home-grown youngsters led by Max Meyer, means the future looks bright.

But the Royal Blues, who did win seven German titles before the Bundesliga was formed, are not a club with a reputation for patience.

The sale of Leroy Sané to Manchester City for close to 50 million euros brought in funds and showed how good their youth system is, but it will not satisfy the fans' lust for success.

Weinzierl must get off to a strong start and with that in mind, their opener away to Eintracht Frankfurt looks particularly critical with Bayern Munich the visitors on matchday 2.

Transfers

Weinzierl and Heidel were brought in partly because of the success they had wheeling and dealing with clubs on a considerably smaller budget than Schalke's - Augsburg and Mainz respectively. The new men in charge have wasted no time making an impact.

Gifted young Swiss forward Breel Embolo is the new arrival that excites the most. The 19-year-old international had been on the radar of some of Europe's biggest clubs for some time and Schalke surprised many by breaking their transfer record to sign him for 25 million euros.

Vorstellung von Breel Embolo auf Schalke

Breel Embolo will aim to help Schalke fans forget about Leroy Sane quickly

The former Basel man is quick, strong, versatile and boasts a decent strike rate for his age. His biggest challenge may be the pressure that comes with being the perceived replacement for Sané, who Schalke will undoubtedly miss.

Cameroon international Joël Matip, who joined Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, is the club's other key departure and Schalke moved quickly to bring in experienced center-back Naldo from Wolfsburg to replace him. The Brazilian is a high-class domestic performer but at 33, may just be a short-term fix.

Left back Abdul Rahman Baba, who played for Weinzierl at Augsburg, has also been brought in on loan from Chelsea but new Spanish full-back Coke is expected to be out for some time with a knee ligament injury.

Head coach: Markus Weinzierl

Weinzierl was openly courted by Schalke during the final weeks of last season, as it became increasingly clear that Andre Breitenreiter was on his way out of the door, and it is easy to see why.

Four successive survivals, a fifth-placed finish and a Europa League run at Augsburg are staggering achievements for a club that was in the regional leagues just a decade ago. He will hope to blend the discipline and organization he instilled in the Bavarian club with the more refined attacking force he has inherited at Schalke.

The step up in clubs is significant but Weinzierl's managerial career to date suggests he does not shirk from a challenge.

Key man: Max Meyer

While Embolo's performances will be interesting to watch and Naldo and Benedikt Höwedes should form a strong defensive partnership, it is hard to escape the feeling that this season represents a big chance for Meyer.

Fußball Bundesliga 19. Spieltag SV Darmstadt 98 vs. FC Schalke 04

Can Max Meyer take the next step in his development and become Schalke's key man in midfield?

The short but silky attacking midfielder has made 95 Bundesliga appearances at the age of 20 (more than double that of Sané, who is the same age) and has shown flashes of his ability without truly kicking on to the top level – as his 16 career goals and 14 assists suggest.

With Sané gone, Embolo new to the league, Klaas Jan Huntelaar seemingly a fading force and Franco di Santo not expected to start, Germany Olympian Meyer will need to become a reliable attacking outlet for his side. He certainly has the talent.

What to expect: Similar struggles, but with more stability

This is Schalke, so that question is perhaps harder than it would be for any other club. Weinzierl should bring some stability and solidity to the club but there is a danger a young squad might be overwhelmed by the twin demands of the Europa League and Bundesliga.

The club do have a strong defense and a range of talented attacking players and they should be aiming for the Champions League as a minimum. Presumably there is still some money left over from Sané's departure and if that is spent wisely they could stay on the coattails of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

Realistically though, 3rd or 4th place and a decent cup run seems about right.

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