Schalke are currently in the midst of their worst Bundesliga campaign in 36 years. As they approach the Revierderby, the Royal Blues have three saving graces, but they really don't deserve them, writes James Thorogood.
After finishing second last season with the lowest points tally of any Bundesliga runner up – assuming three points for a win – Schalke now find themselves in the midst of their worst league campaign in 36 years heading into a decisive Revierderby with bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.
In the 1982-83 campaign the Royal Blues were three points worse off 30 matches into the season and ended up being relegated. Even if they avoid a similar fate, the club have proven even more underwhelming this season.
The difference? Expectations. Back then Schalke were competing as a newly promoted side after their relegation in 1981, which sparked a period of yoyo-ing between Germany's top two flights that ultimately ended in 1992.
Expectation levels were at the opposite end of the spectrum at the start of this season, when Schalke were a Champions League participant looking to build on their seventh second-place finish of the Bundesliga era.
Last season, under Domenico Tedesco, Schalke forged a reputation as a disciplined and effective, albeit aesthetically unsatisfying, outfit. In the current campaign, they've made individual errors befitting the third tier, while any semblance of a cohesive approach has been washed away by a lack of confidence, botched signings and Tedesco's dismissal.
The Royal Blues' only saving grace — or three — is that Hannover, Nuremberg and Stuttgart are just as short of quality, belief and fight. Schalke have done so little to deserve retaining top-flight status though.
Only in the 1965-66 season did the Royal Blues have fewer goals to their name after Matchday 30 (22) than they do this season (32). Right wing-back Daniel Caligiuri is the club's top scorer in the Bundesliga with just five goals, but that shouldn't come as a surprise given how sporting directors Horst Heldt and Christian Heidel both spent big without addressing a goal-scoring issue that dates back six seasons.
Interim head coach Huub Stevens said before the visit of Hoffenheim last weekend that "if the players haven't realized the situation we are in yet, then they never will." Nevertheless, there were plenty of half-hearted performances from key players in a demoralizing 5-2 loss — their sixth straight on home soil in all competitions.
In a season where the only positive was reaching the Champions League knockout stages after surviving the easiest group draw, the chances of Schalke upsetting the odds in the Revierderby are slim.
The trip to Dortmund has the potential to further compound the club's misery, but if they were able to put a dent in their arch rival's title hopes, would it be enough to gloss over a terrible campaign in which their fans have had little to get behind?
The Royal Blues need four points to better their worst-ever points tally in a Bundesliga season. While that would likely save their top flight status, it won't be enough to prevent them going down as the worst Schalke side ever seen in Germany's top flight.