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Preview: Union vs Schalke 04

Tune in to PSP’s Live Chat with Eli Pearlman-Storch tonight at 7:15pm. There is no TV coverage but Eli will give live updates as the game develops. 

In terms of international friendlies, Schalke 04 falls somewhere between an English team with no strikers (Everton) and a Spanish team intent on reminding us they have nothing to play for (Madrid).

The Germans have stars. They also have some very intriguing young players who (gasp!) have gotten regular minutes early in their careers. Schalke is where a young Mesut Ozil got his start and it’s where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar got a chance at redemption following a bellyflop in Italy. Schalke is, in short, a club where anything can happen. From bringing in the most prolific striker in Real Madrid’s history to make a run in the Champions League (while dropping 12 places in the league table) to handing their defense over to a 19-year old Greek prospect a year later and rocketing back up to third place.

This is an interesting team, and tonight’s game should reflect that.

Attack

Schalke do it. The Union don’t.

The Germans rely heavily on their two big guns, their Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Mr. Huntelaar and Mr. Raul. Huntelaar has been the revelation while Raul has been everything Schalke could have hoped for when they signed an aging poacher.

Huntelaar has 51 goals on 76 shots on goal this season in all competitions. Let that sink in.

Those 76 SOG came on only 140 shots. In other words, half the time The Hunter takes a shot, it’s on net. And 2/3 of the time it’s on net, it’s a goal. That means that if Huntelaar cocks his leg back from just about anywhere, there is a 1/3 chance he’s kissing the corner flag.

If the Union’s number one striker scored half the times he took a shot on goal, he would have 2 goals. And that’s rounding up generously.

Behind the top two, Schalke has a pair of very interesting young European strikers. German Lewis Holtby scored 6 in 22 matches while the Finnish Teemu Pukki had 5 in 19 matches, only five of which were starts. Pukki also has an insane 14 shots on goal in 18 shots. So don’t expect too many of his strikes to end up in the River End.

Recent record

Schalke struggled down the stretch in the Bundesliga, going 3-2-2 in the final month of the season.  While the offense continued to motor on, the defense grew weary as Europa League fixtures disrupted midweek rest periods. Captain Benedikt Howedes was carrying an injury while twenty-year olds Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Joel Matip couldn’t sustain top form over the course of the long season.

Don’t expect the Germans to sleepwalk through their friendlies with exhaustion as an excuse. With Huub Stevens at the helm, Schalke has shown the kind of heart that largely eluded the team under former manager Ralph Rangnick. They have aggressively developed young talent and this tour will be a showcase for those young players.

Basically, if you are one of those who thinks the Union should turn the keys over to the hungry youth who have largely been relegated to the bench, Schalke is your new Bundesliga club. Yes, they bring in veteran strikers. But they play those guys… because they score.

What do we want

When the Union played Everton, they got a lot of young players involved. It should be no different against Schalke. The big questions involve positioning. Home grown talents Cristhian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughlin have seen time at outside back during reserve matches, and if that is a real part of the Union’s plans for the attack-minded youngsters, Schalke is the right fire to toss them in. And if Greg Jordan’s future lies in the center of defense, he should also see significant minutes against an opponent that will undoubtedly test his intelligence and reading of the game.

Last season, the Union were in a fairly good position when the international friendlies hit. This year it’s different. These games cannot be purely about developing new talent when you are floating on a life raft called Toronto FC.

Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Chandler Hoffman, Josue Martinez. Exactly how bad have these guys been in practice to receive the treatment they’ve gotten so far? Considering the return Lionard Pajoy has given thus far, I’d say the young strikers would have had to miss every practice to keep Pajoy on the field. The Three Ms and Hoffman can use these friendlies to show the fans what the coaches are missing. Danny Mwanga was memorably strong against Everton and the fans have not forgotten what he can do when given an extended run (see: 7 goals in 24 games as a teenaged rookie).

In other words, the fans are already putting pressure on the technical staff to make changes. Strong showings by the guys on the bench will pile it on.

Doopmosphere

As the players have their goals and responsibilities, so do the fans. Well into season three, it would be easy for Union fans to rest on their laurels and talk about the European atmosphere at PPL while edging more and more towards late arrivals and the sitting-on-hands. It hasn’t happened yet, though the rift between coach and many fans has replaced some of the pre-match exhiliration with a palpable anxiety (which, it seems, is rarely relieved when the starting eleven are announced).

Tonight is not a seduction of Raul. If we stare at him long enough, it won’t make him like us more. What will blow Schalke away is if we treat them as a respected enemy. We welcome them to our home, but let them know long before the whistle that they can look but cannot touch; they will take nothing from us.

With that attitude and a strong performance by the youth, tonight will be another chance to create the kinds of memories that make being a soccer supporter so much fun.

10 Comments

  1. Apparently this isn’t being televised anywhere. Anyone know if anyone will be tweeting from the game?

  2. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Huntelaar’s numbers are just crazy.

  3. Gordon Thompson says:

    Great read. It will be exciting to see if “the 3 M’s and Hofffman” really can show enough to move Pajoy to bench, or at least another position so we can see what these guys can produce. I know it will be enthusiasm, hustle, and maybe even some SOG. Although, I think with these four, a 4-4-2 would more likely showcase their quickness and skills, I doubt if we will see two forwards at a time. The earth will stand still if one of four actually can put one in net. This might, however, produce real pressure on decision making for Sunday, so GOAL might translate into not being in the 18 for Sunday because of bad attitude.

  4. We’re gonna get pasted!
    Under/Over on Schalke04 goals: 3.5 I witnessed the reserve team back line get picked to shreds by Columbus’ Emilio Rentaria. The Schalke forwards are in a completely different class than Columbus’ mercurial striker. Our boys are going to school tonight, me thinks this will be ugly.

  5. snugsmac says:

    Agreed Sean, there is a reason they are not putting this stinker on TV. Just hope no one gets hurt, or maybe that Pajoy DOES get hurt.

    • Peter Nowak says:

      If Mwanga does not score a brace tonight, will you please leave me alone about Lionard at striker?

      I know you will like our new CB duo of Chandler Hoffman and Christian Hernandez!

  6. DarthLos117 says:

    Nah they are gonna take it easy on us and appear uninterested…at least I hope so. A pasting would be horrible leading to this weekends match. Man snugs, I hope nobody (could totally see someone hamstrung tonight) gets hurt…

  7. snugsmac says:

    …just Pajoy. I little nick that keeps him out just long enough for someone, anyone, to get a shot on goal! Not trying to be harsh to Leo, just a lil ankle sprain

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