Schalke waited until the final day of the 2012-2013 season to qualify for the Champions League, narrowly edging out Freiburg for the final spot. The campaign was a roller coaster ride for Die Königsblauen. They went on a stretch where they only won two out of 13 games (boo), made the knockout round of the Champions League (yay), sold Lewis Holtby to Tottenham Hotspur (boo), extended Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's contract (yay), were knocked out of the Champions League by Galatasaray when the second leg was in Gelsenkirchen (boo).
The club decided that they would continue with Jens Keller in charge this year after the end of last season when his position of interim manager was completed. There was a lot of speculation that Schalke would pursue other, more experienced head coaching candidates including Chelsea's Champions League winning manager Roberto di Matteo and former Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach player Stefan Effenberg. Keller has a lot of pressure on him this season, and he will have to pull the right strings to meet the standards that the supporters are craving.
Schalke have been active in the transfer window, bringing in and shipping out players. On paper, the squad is definitely better than they were last year. While it's not the flashiest transfer, I still maintain that the most important move they made was bringing in Felipe Santana from rivals Borussia Dortmund. No, Santana isn't a world beating centerback, and that's why BVB allowed him to walk for such a paltry fee. However, the move is a big one for Schalke. It finally gives them someone to push their current centerbacks for a regular place in the team. It's possible, maybe even likely, that Santana finds his way into the starting eleven.
Bringing in Adam Szalai is arguably just as important a move as Santana. The former Mainz forward isn't going to beat out Huntelaar for the starting spot, but he does give Keller a new and far better option off the bench than they had last season. Given the choice of Szalai, Ciprian Marica, or Teemu Pukki, which guy are you taking? You're out of your mind if you don't choose Szalai. The Hungarian scored 13 goals in the league last season which was the second most of the 25-year-old's career to date. He hit 26 in one year while playing for Real Madrid Castilla (Madrid's reserve side) in the Segunda Division B.
Schalke also brought in Köln's Christian Clemens and Bochum's "wunderkid" Leon Goretzka. Clemens already has Bundesliga experience with Köln (he spent last season in the 2.Bundesliga) and scored seven goals in 58 matches. While it will depend on the formation that Keller decides to play, Clemens could find himself on the field a good amount this season. Goretzka is definitely one to watch for the future. The 18-year-old will see the occasional start this season but will be an important creative spark off the bench for the club.
Looking at the players that have left Schalke this summer, the list is very "meh." Jose Manuel Jurado's loan with Spartak Moscow was made permanent, while Raffael's loan from Dynamo Kyiv was not. Christoph Moritz moved on to Mainz after his contract expired. Christoph Metzelder rode off on his retirement horse.
The one that stands out just a little bit, only because his production in the second half of the season, is Michel Bastos leaving. He joined Schalke on an 18-month loan in the January transfer window, but the loan was canceled this summer. Why? Lyon received a bid from a club in the UAE for Bastos, and the loan agreement with Schalke stated that they would have 10 days to match it. Schalke did not, therefore, Bastos is on his way to the Middle East.
Schalke aren't nearly talented or deep enough to challenge Bayern for the Bundesliga crown this season and probably won't keep up with BVB for second place. The real battle will take place between Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen for third place and the final guaranteed Champions League place. As long as Schalke can avoid a long, extended run of just awful play, they'll find themselves neck-and-neck with Leverkusen until the final few matches. Schalke's goals for the upcoming season are clear: get out of the group stages of the Champions League, advance deep in the DFB Pokal, and qualify for next season's Champions League.