Schalke 04’s crisis: worst series of the millennium

Schalke’s fall from grace in the second half of the Bundesliga has been legendary. Is coach David Wagner now being questioned?

Under pressure: Schalke coach David Wagner in need of an explanation Photo: Simon/imago

A relaxed atmosphere prevailed on Dusseldorf’s northeastern bank of the Rhine late Wednesday evening. Even half an hour before midnight, it was still early summer warm – and cheerful voices and loud music filtered through the trees in front of the arena of the local Fortuna. Meanwhile, much more quietly, a bus pushed its way out of the stadium’s ghostly backdrop toward the highway. On board: the soccer delegation from Gelsenkirchen, 55 kilometers away – and a lousy mood after the 1:2 defeat of the former Champions League aspirants by the relegation-threatened Rhinelanders.

The rosy dreams from January of returning to the money pots of the top flight after a year’s break have long since vanished at S04. In retrospect, the currently injured captain Omar Mascarell identified the second second-round match, a shocking 0:5 defeat of the then fifth-place team at Bayern, as a negative turning point in a season in which Schalke is now trying to save what can still be saved. Even reaching sixth place in the Europa League, currently five points away, seems utopian in view of the current condition of the Konigsblauen.

Ten games without a win – with a horror record of 3:24 goals – is something the Konigsblauen have not yet experienced this millennium. Even before the Corona break, David Wagner’s team was showing enormous problems, especially in its offensive play. They have now become even more acute after the restart. Before the defeat in Dusseldorf (after taking the lead), there was a 0:4 in Dortmund and a 0:3 against Augsburg. And afterwards a warning comment from sporting director Jochen Schneider.

"Proper negative run"

"We can not present ourselves as in the last three games. That is a proper negative run, we must end as soon as possible," demanded the 49-year-old Swabian. "Preferably on Saturday." Then the Schalkers get a visit from Bremen. Three days after Dusseldorf, the next club in the relegation battle is waiting to give them new hope, and one that has won 16 of its 22 points on foreign soil.

This is not a pleasant situation for anyone involved, and certainly not for the manager in charge. Schalke coach David Wagner was asked in Fortuna’s deserted arena what the most important thing was in the current situation until the clash with Werder. "Regenerate and prepare for the next game," he replied. That sounded sensible on the one hand, but unimaginative on the other.

His team’s glaring difficulties in the Augsburg game in finding creative solutions when in possession of the ball and possibly even scoring a goal again prompted Wagner to take a tactical radical course in Dusseldorf. "We took a completely different approach – against a team that is in good shape," said the 48-year-old, explaining the extremely cautious style of play of the visitors, who were still fully programmed for physical power soccer in their brilliant pre-season.

Despite their fabulous fall from grace, the Schalkers are unlikely to get into relegation trouble again, thanks to their points cushion from the fall. However, David Wagner will soon have to explain why his team was able to go so horribly astray on its chosen path to the international stage. First, Supervisory Board Chairman Clemens Tonnies, who is currently thinking out loud about spinning off the professional division. And whose CFO Peter Peters has already warned on the subject of the European Cup: "You shouldn’t be out of it too often." They’re still sticking by Wagner, for now.