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Schalke: A light at the end of the tunnel

Matt Ford in Gelsenkirchen
March 11, 2023

Bundesliga strugglers Schalke twice came from behind to salvage a valuable point against local rivals Borussia Dortmund. The Royal Blues' steady development under Thomas Reis gives cause for optimism.

Bundesliga Schalke - Dortmund 2:2
Image: IMAGO/Pakusch

So much of the folklore surrounding FC Schalke 04 is based on the memory of the region's coal-mining history. 

From the players' tunnel which resembles a mineshaft, to the traditional pre-match "Steigerlied" pit song to the omnipresent miners' greetings of "Glück auf!", club and fans alike keep alive the memory of the treasures their fathers and grandfathers dug from the earth in this region. 

But perhaps nothing which emerged from the deep pits of the Ruhr Valley in years gone by would have felt as valuable as the single point that Schalke won in Saturday's Revierderby. 

Not only was it just reward for twice coming from behind against local rivals Borussia Dortmund, the 2-2 draw also saw the Royal Blues extend their unbeaten run to seven games and give the financially stricken club a further boost in one of the tightest relegation battles the Bundesliga has seen in years. 

Schalke coach Thomas Reis celebrates
Schalke coach Thomas Reis: 'My team never let their heads down.'Image: IMAGO/Pakusch

Schalke coach Reis: 'Never let our heads go down' 

"We saw in the first half that Dortmund were better than us in many areas and their half-time lead was deserved," admitted Schalke coach Thomas Reis. "But my team never let their heads go down."

First, Marius Bülter tapped home Michael Frey's low cross from close range in response to Nico Schlotterbeck's opener, before Kenan Karaman headed home his first Schalke goal to cancel out Raphael Guerreiro's fine strike. 

Both goals in front of a packed Nordkurve terrace prompted explosions of ecstasy, rekindling hope that Schalke could avoid a second relegation in two years which had seemed inevitable after ending the first half of the season rock bottom of the Bundesliga with just nine points and a goal difference of minus 27.

Reis only took over from former head coach Frank Kramer in October, but he immediately set about fixing the basics: not conceding goals. 

It didn't work immediately as Schalke began 2023 with further heavy defeats to Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig, but four consecutive goalless draws against Cologne, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Union Berlin steadied the ship thanks to a newly solidified defense built around veteran Japanese defender Maya Yoshida and German loan signing Moritz Jenz. 

Born in Berlin to a Nigerian father and German mother, Jenz has had a nomadic career thus far, moving from Tennis Borussia Berlin to Fulham to Swiss side Lausanne to French outfit Lorient. After a loan spell in Scotland with Celtic, Jenz joined Schalke on loan in January – and he's still only 23. 

Markus Bülter celebrates his goal for Schalke
Markus Bülter celebrates his goal for Schalke, his sixth of the the season Image: picture alliance/dpa

Schalke's new offensive plan 

With a defensive foundation in place, Reis' thoughts turned to attack, where a focus on quick wing play and crosses has become apparent. 

"We want to present in the box," explained Reis when asked by DW to elaborate on his offensive strategy. "That's why we brought on Kenan [Karaman]. It was a great header, especially because [Bülter's] cross wasn't struck that hard so he had to generate his own power."

Just like against Dortmund, both of Schalke's goals against Stuttgart two weeks ago also came from pinpoint crosses, the first from Frey onto Dominick Drexler's head, and the second from Rodrigo Zalazar which Bülter expertly flicked home with a neat back-heel. 

"If he'd tried that three weeks' earlier, he'd probably have broken his ankle," joked Reis on Saturday, suggesting that a degree of fortune and is also playing a role in Schalke's new offensive form, which has now seen them score twice in three consecutive games. 

"Away at Bochum, too, we had a little bit of luck going ahead through an own goal,” he said. "I'm just glad that we're scoring any goals at all. It's hard to explain but sometimes things just start to work." 

A light at the end of the tunnel 

With three more games against fellow relegation strugglers Augsburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin to come in the next four, things are starting to work just in time for Schalke.

And with a tough run-in including Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig looming in May, now is the time to get points on the board. 

Saturday's derby day point against Borussia Dortmund may have been unexpected, but it was deserved and potentially worth its weight in gold.

There is a light at the end of that tunnel in Gelsenkirchen. 

Edited by Michael Da Silva