Testing Times For Dortmund And Schalke At Opposite Ends Of The Bundesliga

Testing Times For Dortmund And Schalke At Opposite Ends Of The Bundesliga

Bundesliga Zeitung, by Andy Wales.

Here in Germany, we have been preparing ourselves for another Covid lockdown. This one starts today (Monday, November 2) and is due to last four weeks as the federal government attempts to prevent a public health crisis with Christmas just around the corner. As with the rest of the world, these are trying times.

In the world of German football, some clubs are facing challenges of their own, with Schalke perhaps facing the biggest of them all.

How do you solve a problem like Schalke? The truth is, there’s no simple solution to their predicament. Just ask Hamburger SV.

There are parallels to be drawn between the two clubs and the downward spiral Schalke are on. Hamburg flirted with relegation for a few years and long struggled to live up to their rich history before suffering relegation in 2018. The problems on the pitch for HSV were the inevitable consequence of years of poor decisions off it.

In fairness to Hamburg, they do appear to be finally moving in the right direction under new boss Daniel Thioune. It’s also worth pointing out that they weren’t in the same financial mess that Schalke find themselves in.

The turnover of players, coaches, and even sporting directors over the past decade have compounded the financial mismanagement. Rising debts and revenue impacted by Covid would be a concern to any club, but especially one that currently seems destined for relegation.

Former boss David Wagner took a lot of criticism, as will his replacement Manuel Baum if results continue. The players will also get their fair share of it too, but ultimately, it must all go back to the boardroom.

All the poor, costly, recruitment decisions go back to the board, and it’s a board that has not been without problems itself. Former Chairman Clemens Tönnies had to temporarily step down in 2019 for comments that went against Schalke’s anti-discrimination policy. He eventually left the club this summer following a Covid scandal at his meat processing plant.

Schalke used to be the embodiment of inconsistency, you just never knew which Schalke would show up. Now they’ve found a level of consistency on and off the pitch that’s unwanted, to say the least.

The Revierderby just over a week ago didn’t feel anything like a derby. Not just because of the Covid related fan situation, but also on the pitch. Schalke were mildly competitive until Dortmund took the lead, but then the game was over as a contest.

I watched the game with friends of differing loyalties. The Dortmund fans fully expected the 3-0 scoreline. The Schalke fan present expected worse.

The ‘response’ came in the form of a barely-deserved point at home to newly-promoted Stuttgart.

The situation is not of Baum’s making and, as harsh as this may sound, the early signs are that he’s not the answer to their multiple problems.

The reasons for the attention currently falling on Schalke rather than their rivals, Dortmund, is obvious, but that may begin to change over the coming weeks.

Question marks over the future of Lucien Favre have been an on/off topic for around a year. He has survived periods of desperate form and even looked to be on his way out during the dramatic 3-3 draw with Paderborn last season. Favre’s contract is up at the end of this season and the likelihood is that there will be no extension.

Whispers have already begun in the German media about potential successors with Marco Rose, Julian Nagelsmann and Jesse Marsch all touted. The Marsch link is perhaps the most intriguing one, with Christoph Freund (the sporting director of Marsch’s current club RB Salzburg) speaking on German television about the pride Salzburg take in the opportunities they give to emerging coaches, and that Marsch would be a good fit in the Bundesliga.

For the time being though, Favre is still the man in the hot seat and his team are doing well. The derby victory was followed up with their first Champions League win of the campaign against Zenit, and that was backed up with a hard-fought 2-0 win away to Arminia Bielefeld.

It was a game that saw Mats Hummels record his first doppelpack (goal-scoring brace) in a decade, but he later pulled up injured and is doubtful for what will be a decisive week for Favre and Dortmund.

First up is the opportunity to add another Champions League victory against Brugge. Then, on Saturday evening, it’s the potentially season-defining game against Bayern Munich.

Dortmund currently sit level with Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga, and Favre simply cannot afford another limp display against the all-conquering champions.

Yes, it is very early in the season, but a win for Dortmund might impact the psychology of the title race. Favre has so far struggled against Bayern boss Hansi Flick, and if we witness a repeat of previous showdowns expect the talk of Marsch to intensify.

I understand that may seem cruel, but it’s the reality of modern football. It’s also an indication of ambition and expectation levels increasing at Dortmund. It’s only right that the rest of the Bundesliga doesn’t simply lie down and accept their fate in pursuit of Bayern.

So, for vastly differing reasons, it’s a decisive few games ahead for both Schalke and Dortmund; possibly for the Bundesliga too.