The numbers spoke of another humiliation. They were outpassed (231 to 712), outfought (44% to 56% one-v-ones won), outplayed (28% to 72% possession) in front of their home fans. But Schalke 04 had friends in low places on Sunday night; the most important ally of all, in fact, down there, where it really mattered: on the pitch. “The ball was Schalke’s buddy tonight,” winced Borussia Mönchengladbach’s sporting director, Max Eberl.
For the vanquished visitors, a supernatural conspiracy between the spherical object of desire and the hitherto pointless Royal Blues appeared to be the only logical explanation for a 4-0 final score that bore little relation to events on the pitch. “We won by one or two goals too many,” admitted a relieved S04 sporting director, Christian Heidel. But he didn’t care, of course. “All that matters are the points. The team gave their all today, from the very first minute. And even though everything didn’t quite work out football-wise, I felt that we played men’s football throughout [as opposed to junior level, he meant].”
For Süddeutsche Zeitung, Schalke had pulled off “a miracle recovery”. “An act of liberation,” WAZ put it. The first win of the league season after five defeats in a row under the new manager, Markus Weinzierl, was celebrated long after the final whistle by euphoric supporters in Gelsenkirchen. They know better than others, from painful experience, that you don’t always get what you deserve in this game. But sometimes you get what you need. As a largely dull match without meaningless chances suddenly sprung into life in the second half, Schalke stumbled upon their good fortune like a late-80s, new-school hip-hop producer getting hold of the James Brown’s Funky People compilation: suddenly, they had all the breaks.
The BMG substitute Lars Stindl lost the ball, Ibrahima Traoré clumsily challenged Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in the box, a soft penalty, 1-0 (Choupo-Moting, 52’). Six minutes later, the home side had added two more. The record signing Breel Embolo scored his first goal for Schalke (56’) and Leon Goretzka made it 3-0 (58’). Embolo, 19, added a fourth seven minutes from time. “We didn’t want to listen to the negativity surrounding us,” the Swiss international explained. He had celebrated his first goal by covering his ears.
Eberl harrumphed: “Football isn’t always fair and explicable. We played well but Schalke scored three goals in the right moment, having a bit of momentum going for them today.” But it wasn’t only bad luck. The Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer felt his team had become “too hectic” after the first Schalke goal, hinting at a troubling psychological frailty. For some reason, one of the league’s best counterattacking sides have stopped performing away from home. Only one win in 14 Bundesliga games is a record not worthy of a Champions League team – and also explains why André Schubert is yet to wholly convince all internal doubters.
Schalke, too, are aware that questions remain. “I’m not sure all problems have gone away,” Heidel said. While their attitude and work-rate looked much improved on Sunday, Weinzierl will need more time to adapt his reactive midfield-pressing system from Augsburg to a much more technically gifted 04 team. They won’t be able to win too many games with that amount of possession, to be sure, and there are only so many times Heidel can address the team with an urgent “wake-up, we’re in a relegation” lecture in midweek. “It was not very loud and I didn’t use PowerPoint, as some had reported,” the 53-year-old smiled.
In an effort to make the league’s most capricious big club into a more serious outfit, he’s clamped down on leaks to local tabloids and persuaded talkative boss Clemens Tönnies to stay away from the microphones. These two remarkable achievements in a relatively short space of time – Heidel took over from Horst Heldt in the summer –created a valuable breathing space during the disappointing opening weeks. It will take longer to build up much-needed facilities, such as a fully functioning scouting network, for example. Schalke had relied on friendly agents doing their legwork for them in the past.
Sunday’s 4-0 win, the phoniest score since friends of this column came home with a bagful of liquorice from Camden market one night 20 years ago, might not quite be a turning point for Weinzierl’s men. But at least they’re off the bottom of the table now, ready to embark on progress so uncharacteristically steady and quiet in Schalke 04 terms that it could eventually amount to a full-blown revolution.
• Joint post-match conferences by both coaches have been a feature since Bundesliga times eternal but they have rarely been as entertaining as Saturday night’s “third half” after Leverkusen v Dortmund at the BayArena. Thomas Tuchel’s mood was bad enough after his slightly tired looking team had gone down 2-0 to a Bayer side that had frustrated them by compressing space and being rather robust in the tackle. When the Leverkusen coach, Roger Schmidt, claimed that it had been a “a fair game without bad fouls” Tuchel could barely contain his ire. “A fair game – so says the manager of the team who committed 21 fouls to the manager of the team with seven fouls,” he shook his head. “If 21 fouls are fair, I understand things differently.” Tuchel went on to state that his team had dominated the game, “Bayer only had 35% of the ball,” he read from the stats sheet in front of him. “Possession doesn’t always equal dominance,” Schmidt shot back, unperturbed by his colleague’s anger. Things didn’t quite get personal but you could sense that the difference of opinion is underpinned by some heartfelt rivalry, stemming from the fact that they are two best German coaches in the league.
• The best Italian coach in the Bundesliga, meanwhile, had his worst week in Munich yet, some Oktoberfest fun on Sunday afternoon notwithstanding. Bayern’s performance in the 1-1 draw against 1. FC Köln – the first two points dropped domestically after the 1-0 defeat v Atletico Madrid on Wednesday – was again unconvincing; a ponderous, disjointed affair in which individual star quality for once couldn’t mask collective toiling. “We got 16 out 18 points, we are far away from having a problem,” the executive chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said, to counter the criticism but “the lack of pace” Manuel Neuer bemoaned was telling. Three months into the “dolce vita regime” (Frankfurter Rundschau) of Ancelotti, Bayern remain worryingly far away from the machine-like precision of Pep Guardiola. The much vaunted freedom ushered in by his successor has translated into a distinct lack of order. Privately, the senior board members are far more concerned than they let on.
Results Leipzig 2-1 Augsburg, Darmstadt 2-2 Bremen, Bayern 1-1 Köln, Freiburg 1-0 Frankfurt, Hertha 2-0 HSV, Leverkusen 2-0 Dortmund, Ingolstadt 1-2 Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg 0-0 Mainz, Schalke 04 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach.