Schalke's rebuilding process is far from over. Heading into his second season in charge, head coach Domenico Tedesco and his men are set to face the challenge of competing on three fronts.
Schalke's rebuilding process is far from over, as anbody can clearly see while watching a training session. Huge piles of earth, construction rubble and sweat are on show as work on modernizing Schalke's facilities with the help of a cash injection of €100 million ($86.7 million) continues.
On the pitch though, the Royal Blues are looking much closer to the finished product. After finishing as Bundesliga runners-up last season, there is a prevailing air of confidence surrounding the club.
"A lot of people are expecting us to not have as good a season. Therefore, we again have the opportunity to produce a pleasant surprise," Alessandro Schöpf said. "A lot of people have also claimed that we were lucky last season. So I don't believe that the pressure on us has increased."
Stambouli has concerns
Benjamin Stambouli has taken a more critical stance ahead of the upcoming campaign.
"When you come in as the dark horses, you aren't get weighed down by expectations and you can surprise people. When teams are more familiar with you, it's completely different," he said. "That's why we're talking a lot about our roles and working hard. We've have to go into games in the same spirit we did last season. Otherwise we could encounter problems."
Domenico Tedesco's first season in charge saw Schalke clinch their highest league finish since 2010.
The supporters are also continuing to fan the flames of expectation. More and more are turning up to every open training session, while 1,500 of them even made the trip to Mittersill, Austria to follow their progress at their preseason training camp.
"You see the pulling power that Schalke has," Schöpf said. "That makes us as players very proud."
It's not often that Schalke went unobserved this summer. With the hype building though, if they fail to hit the ground running in the new campaign, it may not be long until this positive mood dissipates.
Prominent departures to deal with
Sporting director Christian Heidel and head coach Domenico Tedesco have engineered the club's transfer policy to maintain a flat hierarchy and avoid conflicts within the squad. In Leon Goretzka,Max Meyer, Benedikt Höwedes and most recently Thilo Kehrer, Schalke have lost a quartet of key figures both on and off the pitch, three of whom still have their best years ahead of them. However, at the same time they've also relieved themselves of potential future problems in the form of expiring contracts.
And that's just how Tedesco will have wanted it. The 32-year-old is going into his second season as Schalke head coach and has the opportunity to continue to oversee the upheaval he initiated last year. That's not a luxury that many recent head coaches at the club have been afforded.
Tedesco has created a new culture at the club and his players often refer to him as a "brother." He has placed importance on transparency, is in almost constant communication with his 27 players and even gets involved in training. The united front at Schalke was best demonstrated when they put on a show of solidarity in the light of Franco di Santo recently being verbally abused by a fan during a training session.
Naldo: We're all captains
Which player made the decision to demonstrably come to di Santo's defense, remains unknown.
"We're all captains," said Naldo, who has been named assistant captain for this season. "We've all got to assume the responsibilities of the captaincy."
The Brazilian was arguably the talisman of Schalke's upswing last season, which saw him voted Bundesliga player of the season by his fellow professionals.
Naldo is looking forward to linking up with Salif Sane, who has been brought in from Hannover to help bolster the Royal Blues' backline.
"He's a good guy and had an unbelievable season with Hannover. I hope he can have just as good a season again. I'm pleased that he's here," Naldo said. Based on their preseason appearances together, the two towering center-backs have already struck up a strong partnership.
As for the remaining new recruits, the 2018-19 campaign will be their proving ground. Mark Uth and Steven Skrzybski have added quality to an already highly competitive frontline, which includes last season's top scorer at the club, Guido Burgstaller.
"It's completely normal for there to be a high level of competition for playing time at a club like this," the Austrian said. "We get on well together, but that's not where the story ends. There's a respectful way to go about it as players get stuck in trying to demonstrate to the coach their desire to play."
Champions League challenge
With Goretzka and Meyer seeking pastures new, Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar have been brought in to plug the gaps in midfield. Both have big shoes to fill. And while Schalke's latest signing, Hamza Mendyl, already has 13 international caps for Morocco, he only has 13 Ligue 1 appearances to his name. As a result he may need time to find his feet in the Bundesliga.
Schalke haven't ruled out making further signings this summer though, especially given their need for more strength in depth after qualifying for Europe's most prestigious club competition.
"We're looking at the Champions League as a bonus," Naldo explained. "I'm already looking forward to playing every three days. That rhythm can't be used as an excuse for bad games though. We've got to make sure we recover well and so we can go full throttle again."
Tedesco the key piece
Tedesco is facing a tough juggling act this season and, if things don't go well in the early stages, then problems may arise. With the Royal Blues competing on three fronts, Tedesco will have less time to work with his team in training, correcting mistakes or preparing for upcoming fixtures. Even the frequent discussions that this communicative coach likes to have with his players may have to be curtailed due to time pressures.
The 32-year-old signed a contract extension until 2022 before the start of the season - a deal that will last almost as long as the work being done on Schalke's training ground - further evidence that Schalke's rebuild is still far from over.