Schalke have had a terrible start to the season losing all three of their games. Felix Magath has tried all kinds of tactics and combinations but his team has continued to look awful both in defense and upfront.
Against Hoffeinheim, Schalke lined up in some sort of hybrid diamond formation with Raul playing in the hole and Christoph Metzelder at right back. This formation is shown below.
The first obvious problem with this set up is that Metzelder does not possess any of the skills needed to play right back. He is slow, not a good crosser or dribbler and since his Real Madrid experience, seems to have lost his tactical awareness and anticipation. In Schalke’s diamond formation, Moritz plays on the right of midfield but he is “tucked in” so is not in a good position to help Metzelder patrol the right flank. For the whole of the first half Metzelder was left one on one against Ba, the quickest of the three Hoffeinheim strikers. It is not an exaggeration to say Ba had his way with Metzelder and Hoffeinheim exploited this mis-match to launch most of their counter attacks. In a diamond formation it is up to the fullbacks to get forward and provide width but Metzelder is a poor choice for this role. Hoffeinheim’s wide forwards do not track back so playing an attacking fullback against them would have been a good strategy but Magath chose to do the opposite. So Metzelder didn’t get forward and exploit the space in front of him and he was a defensive liability. Magath realised his error at half time and replaced Metzelder with Matip, a better player for the role(even though he himself is not a natural right back). Schalke have already used 3 different players at right back this season and two of them are not natural right backs at all.
THE REST OF THE TEAM ARE NO BETTER
Metzelder’s poor performance is not the reason that Schalke lost the game. The rest of his teammates were just as bad and could not deal with Hoffeinheim’s 433 formation. Schalke had the second best defense in the Bundesliga last season but they lost some their key defenders, especially Rafinha, Westermann and Bordon and the replacements have struggled . Magath is clearly still looking for his best defensive combination and the team is struggling as a result. Howedes and Plestan struggled to deal with Ibisevic’s pace and strength and the Bosnian could have had a hattrick if it was not for the heroics of Manual Neuer.
The midfield is also disjointed and they give the ball away in key areas, opening themselves up to the counter attack. Against Hoffeinheim Edu, who is a striker, was asked to play wide left forward but this did not work as he did not have the pace or skill to get by the excellent Beck(the Hoffeinheim right back). Huntelaar and Raul did not combine very well but the few times they did led to decent chances created. Raul did not put enough pressure on the excellent Gustavo, who controlled the game from deep.Jones was supposed to be the holding midfielder in the team but he made forward runs on a regular basis, leaving his team exposed to the counter. Sarpei was the teams only attacking outlet at left back but he was just okay and has looked dodgy in his previous games. Magath has brought in Jurado as his playmaker(who was used on the wing at Atletico Madrid) but this will probably not solve the team’s defensive problems.
If Schalke are to have any say in the title this season then they need to improve the defense as soon as possible. Magath needs to find a settled formation, at least in the short term, so his players can get used to each other. The new attacking players wont make any impact if they donot have a solid midfield and defense behind them. Finally, Metzelder IS NOT A RIGHT BACK!