Schalke 04: Title contenders?

Posted on June 20, 2011

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In a week where Die Königsblauen hosted their AGM and secured the long-term future of teenage star Julian Draxler, Schalke will tomorrow find out their opponents on the opening day of the season marking the start of Ralf Rangnick’s first full season in charge in his second spell at the club.

17-year-old Draxler extended his deal at the Veltins Arena until 2016 following an impressive debut season where he starred, and scored, in the DFB Pokal final in May.

And the youngster is likely to play a bigger part in Schalke’s Bundesliga campaign next season.

Expectations are high for the German youth international and perhaps, unfairly on Draxler, he will be compared to Dortmund’s very own teenager Mario Götze who made a storming impact in his debut season a year ago.

Schalke had a fairly disappointing season overall last year with Felix Magath losing his job in the middle of March after a terrible start to the league campaign. Magath was replaced swiftly by Ralf Rangnick who steadied the ship in the right direction and took the Royal Blues to the semi-finals of the Champions League, as well as, winning the DFB Pokal against MSV Duisburg.

Rangnick and sporting director Horst Heldt have been busy so far this summer with the long transfer saga involving Manuel Neuer finally completed and he will be an FC Bayern player next season.

Schalke have also sold Lukas Schmitz and Christian Pander who struggled to establish themselves in the first-team last season.

Heldt has made one of the signings of the summer in adding Mainz’s left-back Christian Fuchs for £3.5m. Fuchs had a superb season under Thomas Tuchel and the Austrian international played an integral part in their qualification for the UEFA Europa League.

Another key man in Mainz’s rise to a European place was Lewis Holtby who was on-loan with Tuchel’s side last season. Hotlby and Schurrle created a devastating partnership which kept Mainz towards the top of the Bundesliga in the first half of the season.

The 20-year-old was signed on a two-year loan deal by Mainz but he will return to Schalke this summer following his impressive stint there.

Arguably, the biggest challenge for Rangnick and his players will be overcoming the mental difficulties in securing a league championship. Schalke have yet to get their hands on the Bundesliga and for a club, regularly attracting 60,000 supporters a week and aiming to challenge at the highest level, winning that elusive title is a massive hurdle for Die Königsblauen.

The club has a glittering early history with seven league championships between 1934 and 1958, five DFB Pokal’s and the UEFA Cup in 1997. Under Magath, they secured a second-place finish but again failed to get over the finishing line ahead of FC Bayern.

This season, they will need to compete with rivals and current champions Borussia Dortmund and a rejuvenated FC Bayern who will put in a stronger challenge next season after finishing third last year.

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Posted in: Feature