After flirting dangerously with relegation last term, Schalke are firmly back on steady ground in the Bundesliga with bigger things possibly on the horizon.
Considering their status as one of the biggest clubs in German football, Schalke’s displays in the Bundesliga last season just were not good enough.
They finished in 14th spot and ultimately five points clear off the relegation places, but it was unsettling for a club of their stature to spend the entire campaign nervously looking over their shoulders.
Where Heart Meets Mind: FC Schalke 04
But ahead of the Ruckrunde – as the second half of the season is referred to in Germany – the 2019/20 season is already promising far greater things for the Gelsenkirchen outfit.
With a new coach at the helm in David Wagner, Schalke are not only well clear of the drop zone but are presently fifth on the table, level on points with fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund and just seven behind leaders RB Leipzig.
A return to Europe has to be the minimum target but the most positive aspect for Die Konigsblauen has been Wagner’s ability to put smiles back on the faces of his players.
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Amine Harit, the 2017/18 Bundesliga Rookie of the Year, has bounced back from a poor season to emerge as one of the competition’s genuine livewires, while fellow prospects like Suat Serdar, Ozan Kabak and the on-loan Jonjoe Kenny all look like they belong at this level.
The seven-time German champions may still be a couple of steps away from challenging for top honours, but they have shown enough heart and a composed mind to suggest the Schalke resurgence is well underway.
THE HEART – ALEXANDER NUBEL
A controversial choice and one that might not go down well with the Veltins-Arena faithful considering he recently confirmed he would be joining Bayern Munich on a free transfer this summer but, for the past season and a half, Alexander Nubel has been the heart of this Schalke side.
Never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, Nubel is now regarded as one of world football’s top prospects and barely anyone batted an eyelid when he was named Schalke captain at the start of the season despite just 20 Bundesliga games to his name.
In the aftermath of his impending move, the 23-year-old has since relinquished that role to the equally-influential Omar Mascarell and is in the midst of serving a four-game ban for a dangerous challenge on Mijat Gacinovic in a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, but even that was more to do with sheer desperation to win the ball for his team as opposed to a genuinely vicious challenge.
More than just losing one of the Bundesliga’s best goalkeepers when June comes around, Schalke will also have to deal with filling the void of a real presence in the dressing room.
THE MIND – AMINE HARIT
He still may not have the same stature of the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner but, when Harit is in full flight, not many in the Bundesliga can match him in terms of sheer excitement.
The Morocco international, who is still only 22, displays his brilliance best when the ball is at his feet, and he has already produced his fair share of standout moments in the first half of 2019/20.
In particular, his star turn against Paderborn back in September – when he netted twice as Die Konigsblauen came from behind to claim a 5-1 away win – highlighted his ability to win a match on his own.
And, as his creative mind marries with maturity as he gets older, Harit – who has racked up six goals and four assists this season – has the potential to be a full-fledged headline act of the Bundesliga.