By all accounts, Schalke had a poor Hinründe, and many agreed that Jens Keller should be without a job. Well, Schalke are four points out of a Champions League spot and advance to the knockout rounds of this year's Champions League. When you look at the numbers, it appears that Schalke was better than we thought.
What Went Right
The play of 18 year old Max Meyer was so good in the first half of the season, many commentators reversed course to suggest that Schalke should sell Julian Draxler if the money was there. Meyer spent the year in and out of the starting lineup, but he played in 14 out of 17 league matches and 5 out of 6 Champions League games. Meyer's creativity and vision on the ball were superb, and he looks to play a big part, if not the key, of Schalke's future.
At the beginning of the season, I thought it was time to cut bait on all of these guys and find some new defenders, but they gradually pulled themselves together for quite the Hinründe. After the first three matches, they were on pace to concede almost 100 goals on the year, but they pulled things together and only conceded 28 in the first half. In fact, in their last four matches of 2013, they only conceded only once. Hopefully for Schalke supporters, Jens Keller can find the right backline to help the club continue their good run of form to end the season.
Kevin Prince Boateng
When I first heard that Die Königsblauen had signed Kevin Prince Boateng from AC Milan, I really couldn't believe it. KPB provided Schalke with the one player that they didn't have up front. A tough, physical player that could provide that moment of brilliance to win you a match. Schalke started the year in embarrassing fashion by losing the first three matches and conceding nine goals. Boateng's first game was against Bayer Leverkusen, and Schalke won 2-0. He scored his first goal in the next match, a 1-0 victory over Mainz. You could see his toughness permeate to other players on the field wearing the royal blue of Schalke.
What Went Wrong
Schalke signed Adam Szalai over the summer to add a quality Bundesliga striker to go with Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Unfortunately for Schalke, Huntelaar picked up an injury after the second league game and missed the remainder of 2013. In those two matches, Huntelaar bagged two goals. Szalai has stepped up and has 5 goals to his name, but one has to imagine that huntelaar would have scored more.
Other players picking up injuries include Benedikt Höwedes, Julian Draxler, Dennis Aogo, Marco Höger and new signing Jan Kirchhoff. Aogo and Höger are likely done for year with knee injuries, Kirchhoff is out for probably a month, and Höwedes and Draxler should return for the first matchday of the Rückunde. A run of good health would be great for the club.
When Schalke promoted youth coach Jens Keller to the first team, there were some questions as to whether or not he was cut out for the job. If you ask most people at this point, they'd agree with you that he hasn't been up to snuff so far. His decisions and tactics haven't been good enough for a club with the aspirations of Schalke. There were a lot of rumors that Thomas Schaaf was going to be taking over the club during the winter break, but that never materialized. We'll see what the future holds for Keller. Schalke will need to find themselves in Europe next year for Keller to retain his job.
Time For A Number One Goalkeeper
This won't happen until the summer, but it's time for Schalke to sign a "number one quality" goalkeeper. Timo Hildebrand and Ralf Fährmann have both seen time in goal, but Fährmann started the last few games of the season and appears to be the starter heading into the Rückrunde. We can be honest here and state that neither guy should be the number one goalkeeper for a side competing in the Champions League. With Marc Andre ter Stegen on his way to Barcelona this summer, Schalke will have to compete with Borussia Mönchengladbach for a new goalkeeper.
Second Half Outlook
If Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Kyriakos Papadopoulos come back at full strength, there's a good possibility that we see Schalke rise up and challenge for that fourth Champions League place. One thing that will be necessary for Schalke to challenge will be a continuing focus on improving the defense for the club to have the possibility of competing in Europe against next year.