Bundesliga Previews: Schalke 04

GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - JULY 24: Schalke players Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Benedikt Hoewedes look dejected after the friendly match between Schalke 04 and AC Milan at Veltins-Arena on July 24, 2012 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images,)

Schalke need to rebound after finishing third last year? Really? Yes, but only because their enemy has won back to back titles.

Team: FC Schalke 04

Manager: Huub Stevens

Key Additions: Chinedu Obasi, Roman Neustädter, Tranquillo Barnetta

Key Losses: Raul, Jan Moravek, Hans Sarpei

2011-2012 Finish: Bundesliga 3rd

2012-2013 Prediction: It certainly has been an up and down three years for Schalke, and that's clearly shown by their point totals. Starting in the 2009-10 season, they've finished with 65, 40, and 64 points respectively. In this period of time, Schalke have had two top three finishes and, in the year they accumulated 40 points, they won the DFB Pokal and advanced to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. All of this would be easier to take for supporters if not for one thing: Borussia Dortmund won the league title in 2010-11, and they won the double last year. The Revierderby matches have also gone the way of BVB in recent years with three wins and one draw. By the way, those two titles that BVB won are more Bundesliga titles than Schalke have won. Ever. Seriously. The last time Schalke won the title was before the founding of the Bundesliga. This, by the way, is the 50th season of the Bundesliga. Schalke supporters want need a victory or two over BVB this season to get over that fact.

Schalke have been good in the transfer market so far. The big loss is Spanish legend Raul. The forward departed European football for the Middle East. During his two seasons in Gelsenkirchen, Raul scored 28 goals. Schalke have brought in Tranquillo Barnetta on a free transfer, and they made Chinedu Obasi's loan permanent. Both should hopefully alleviate the pressure on Klaas Jan Huntelaar to score all of the goals. Roman Neustädter will add depth to a defensive midfield position that was already pretty strong.

The player to watch for Schalke this season will be Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Of course, it is. However, the players that I want you to watch are Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Benedikt Höwedes. The two young centerbacks will be vital in Schalke's success this season. They're back in the Champions League this season, and both will be expected to improve dramatically on their form last year. Schalke let up 44 goals last year on the way to a third place finish while the two teams that finished ahead of them only conceded 25 and 22 goals. Schalke will score goals this season, but their success will depend on defensive improvements.

Schalke finished 3rd last year but were 17 points behind champions Borussia Dortmund and 9 points behind runners-up Bayern Munich. Their defense let them down last season and, if they have any plans on challenging for the title this season, must improve. The defense was fairly young last season and should be better this year. I still don't think this team has the depth and overall quality to challenge either BVB or Bayern. Schalke remain, however, one of the four best teams in the league. I believe that Schalke will qualify for next season's Champions League, but they'll do so by finishing in fourth place.

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