Daniel Caligiuri's brace stole the spotlight and won the points for Schalke against Wolfsburg on Sunday. But Domenico Tedesco's decision to axe captain Ralf Fährmann was bold and vindicated, writes DW's Matt Pearson.
Domenico Tedesco made his mark early at Schalke. From the moment the inexperienced boss benched club captain and legend Benedikt Höwedes for his first two Bundesliga games in August 2017, it was clear he was not a man afraid of ruffling feathers.
Höwedes was a World Cup winner who joined the Royal Blues as a 13-year-old and had become a beacon of stability and identity in a club that often lost its way. But, after he was stripped of the captaincy, he was quickly offloaded on loan to Juventus, eventually landing permanently at Lokomotiv Moscow.
Eyebrows were understandably raised at the time but come the end of the season, Tedesco was indisputably the main man in Gelsenkirchen after guiding a limited side to an unlikely second-place finish. The power play had worked.
But the second-season syndrome kicked in. Schalke have regressed this term, with big money signing Sebastian Rudy struggling and individual errors undermining Tedesco's men at every turn.
Initially the 33-year-old coach kept faith with the same core as last season but in 2019, he's once again shown the ruthless streak that's present in all top coaches. First Naldo, one of last season's standout players, was off-loaded to Monaco and then, on Sunday, Tedesco dropped his captain again.
Not afraid of change
Ralf Fährmann doesn't have quite the same status as Höwedes did, but the goalkeeper also came through the ranks at Schalke. Aside from a short spell with Eintracht Frankfurt early in his career, Fährmann has been a constant. The 30-year-old has made over 200 appearances since rejoining Schalke in 2011 and is the club's longest-serving player by four years. It's fair to say he's an important figure.
But important or not, Fährmann has made some basic errors that have cost his team this season. Enough was enough for Tedesco who named Fährmann on the bench for Sunday's 2-1 home win while noting that he was a "super person, super goalkeeper" but that his "mind was not clear."
As with the Höwedes' decision, when Schalke completed an impressive opening day win over RB Leipzig, Tedesco's call paid immediate dividends. Fährmann's replacement Alexander Nübel was immediately in the game, pulling off a brilliant point-blank save after just five minutes that meant Daniel Caligiuri's penalty soon after broke the deadlock rather than restored parity.
From replays of the save, the TV cameras panned to a deadpan Fährmann on the bench, with the crowd singing the praises of his 22-year-old replacement. Nübel made another excellent stop just before the half-hour mark, narrowing down the angle to block Yannick Gerhardt when the Wolfsburg man was clean through.
The young keeper surely did enough to keep his spot. And despite wasting several chances, Schalke did enough to get a win that allows them to look up and not down after Caligiuri lashed in a left-footed winner following a lung-busting run and intelligent pass from Weston McKennie.
No one decision, no matter how bold, controversial or correct, is going to turn around a season that's already had its share of false dawns. But it does at least prove that Tedesco is not content to just let things drift, that he won't die wondering. If only he could drop his captain every week.