Benedikt Howedes

Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images for MAN

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

America’s latest Bundesliga teenager eyes the future

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As recently as Wednesday, Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie joined his American teammate Nick Taitague and fellow Yank teenager Christian Pulisic for an afternoon of FIFA at Pulisic’s place in Gelsenkirchen.

How long those sort of friendly meetings will endure is up for discussion, because one of the world’s best rivalries has two young American friends on either side.

McKennie is a whopping 21 days older than Borussia Dortmund’s Pulisic, and will turn 19 on August 28. He’s also following in the footsteps of Pulisic as a teenage member of the Revierderby.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“When we hang out it doesn’t come up, but we know in the back of our heads that when that game comes around we’ll have to hit pause on our friendship,” McKennie told ProSoccerTalk. “After that game we’ll see how it goes, but I’m sure it’ll be the same.”

The friendship of McKennie, Pulisic, Taitague, and Haji Wright — Wright has left Schalke for a loan stint at Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga — has otherwise been a boon to the American quartet, and it isn’t wild to consider the unit’s formative days in Germany as a harbinger of what’s to come for the United States men’s national team.

McKennie, 18, could be a massive part of American soccer in the future. Rated the 13th best U-20 prospect in the Bundesliga, the Texas-born midfielder has drawn glowing reviews from new manager Domenico Tedesco, who lauded the player’s “super pressing game” in a senior debut earlier this week, and veterans Benedikt Howedes and Matija Nastasic only had good things to say in conversations with PST this week.

“In the defensive midfield he already operates very mature,” said Howedes, the longtime Schalke man who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany. “He works hard all the time and showed in pre-season that he can help us. If he develops like he has done until now, the team will be pleased with him. Also, he is clever in his head and a really funny guy.”

Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, is very pleased with McKennie’s two-way game.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

“He’s very very good player in the middle because he can go up front and finish actions but also in defense he’s very good,” Nastasic said. “For me, he’s a box-to-box player who can run and is strong. He can be very very good.”

And here’s Nabil Bentaleb, just 22:

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Both players stressed patience with McKennie and a Schalke squad that has youthful talent in bunches. In addition to the American teenager, there’s Swiss sensation Breel Embolo, Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, and German trio Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, and Fabian Reese.

In Meyer and Goretzka, McKennie has teammates who boast more than 210 league appearances despite a combined age of 43. Both won silver medals at the 2016 Olympics and Goretkza won the Silver Boot and Bronze Ball as Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

The fact that these players surround McKennie, Schalke’s youngest First Teamer, and have done so much at their ages is not lost on the American midfielder.

“Being around guys who’ve accomplished so much at a young age, even with Christian being younger than me and achieving so much and setting the way over here, you’re surrounding yourself with people who are only going to make you better,” McKennie said.

“Knowing ‘This kid’s only one year older than me. This kid’s only two years older than me,’ and seeing the way they carry themselves and the amount of experience they’ve had, it rubs off on you.”

And it’s not just the young guys bringing the energy as Schalke prepares for its Bundesliga opener on Saturday against Red Bull Leipzig.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Brooks out 3 months for Wolfsburg ]

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. The older guys like Naldo and Coke still joke around with young guys. Me being the youngest I get a little bit more than everyone else.”

As for his American hopes, McKennie has spoken of his hopes to get into Bruce Arena’s USMNT fold. He’s hopeful for a call into a friendly camp in the next year, and harbors long shot hopes for a spot on a potential World Cup roster.

Playing an important position in one of the world’s top leagues at age 18 won’t hurt that, though minutes will certainly be difficult to come by this season given Schalke has a rare campaign outside of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

And it may not surprise then when asked to target his role as a potential international, he hopes to grow into a player who’d be described as a mix of two of the United States’ all-time best at that position (one who’s starred at Schalke).

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“I’d kinda say Jermaine Jones if you had to choose a national team player, for the stuff that he does and maybe Michael Bradley, one of those players who is calm on the ball and can play that long ball, the one that is there at the right moments.” McKennie said, though at his age he obviously hasn’t seen a wide variety of USMNT center mids.

“Jermaine in my eyes is one of those guys who gets stuck in no matter what. He goes with all he has, and does the dirty work. That’s kinda how I picture myself.”

All of that isn’t to put the cart before the horse. McKennie is very clear in answering any questions about his future with measured responses. He has a lot of work to do to continue his rise into Schalke’s set-up.

[ MORE: Costa — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

For now, he’ll keep doing what he’s doing, working as hard as possible to maintain a spot in Tedesco’s mix and growing alongside Taitague and Wright, and across the pitch from Pulisic, even as his BVB buddy makes it a bit harder to go out on the town.

“In his area and even in Gelsenkirchen because we’re rivals, he’s noticeable, but he’s not a player who tries to be noticed,” McKennie said. “There are players who try to be noticed, but he’s not. He’s not gonna say no to taking a photo, but even if he’s having a bad day he finds a way to put on a smile. He’s younger than me and I can still look up to him.”

That is until they hopefully hit the same grass for one of the game’s best matches.

Defender Benedikt Howedes rejects Arsenal, AC Milan to stay at Schalke

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If Arsene Wenger thought he had crossed off one of his most pressing needs during this summer’s transfer window, the Arsenal manager got quite the surprise this week when Schalke defender Benedikt Howedes rejected a move to the north London club in order to stay at Bundesliga side Schalke.

[ MORE: All the latest transfer gossip ]

Arsenal and Schalke had perhaps even agreed a fee — Schalke are thought to want something in the neighborhood of $20-25 million — for the 27-year-old 2014 World Cup-winning center back/left back, but the Schalke academy product has decided that Schalke is still the club for him.

Howedes, on his status as a Schalke player, from Sky Sports:

“Arsenal and AC Milan were really keen on my services, but I have decided in favor of Schalke.”

Maybe Howedes just wants the chance to advance to the quarterfinals and beyond in the UEFA Champions League — something he did in consecutive seasons with Schalke in 2011 and 2012 — rather than routinely bow out in the round of 16 each season (five years in a row). Just a thought.

[ RELATED: Borini wants out of Liverpool | Dzeko going nowhere | Mandzukic to Juve ]

Wenger will probably continue his search for a first-team-caliber utility defender in the mold of Howedes, because as things stand, Arsenal currently only have Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel as full-time center backs, with Calum Chambers splitting much of his first season with the club shuttling between center back and right back.

With just eight defenders with Premier League experience on the first-team roster, Wenger has surely already turned to Plan B, C or D.

Bundesliga wrap: Wolfsburg wastes chance to make up more ground on drawing Bayern

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Is something wrong with Bayern Munich?

The dominant Bundesliga champs lost their first league match of the season when Wolfsburg thumped them 4-1 on Friday, and the Bavarians dropped points again on Tuesday.

Fortunately for the first-place side, Wolfsburg couldn’t get all three points off lowly Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: USMNT legend Borghi passes away ]

Let’s dig into the four Tuesday matches:

Bayern Munich 1-1 Schalke
Before we get into the how, how about a wow? The draw means Bayern has dropped points in back-to-back matches for just the second time under Pep Guardiola. And for it to happen in a Ruckrunde sure makes it sting a little more.

The stars were out for both sides, and a 17th minute red card to Jerome Boateng had the hosts in a bad spot. Still, Arjen Robben broke the scoreless tie in the 67th minute, but Benedikt Howedes equalized just five minutes later to pull the visitors into fourth place on the table.

Bayern’s lead stays 8 points.

source: APEintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Wolfsburg

Andre Schurrle was just watching after his transfer from Chelsea, and for a while must’ve been pretty frustrated as Die Wolfe nearly threw away all the points against the mid-table competition.

Stefan Aigner scored in the 58th minute, and it took Kevin De Bruyne all the way into the 88th minute to save the day. The former Chelsea man now has 6 goals and 11 assists this season.

USMNT defender Timmy Chandler did not play for Frankfurt.

Elsewhere

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 Freiburg — Fabian Johnson goes 90 at LW in win
Hannover 96 1-1 Mainz — Elkin Soto snares road equalizer in 77th minute.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg — 2pm ET Wednesday
Koln vs. Stuttgart — 2pm ET Wednesday
Paderborn vs. Hamburg — 2pm ET Wednesday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — 2pm ET Wednesday
Hertha Berlin vs. Bayer Leverkusen — 2pm ET Wednesday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 19 14 4 1 43 9 34 9-1-0 5-3-1 46
VfL Wolfsburg 19 11 5 3 38 19 19 8-2-0 3-3-3 38
Mönchen 19 9 6 4 27 16 11 6-3-1 3-3-3 33
FC Schalke 04 19 9 4 6 30 22 8 6-3-1 3-1-5 31
FC Augsburg 18 10 0 8 25 22 3 7-0-2 3-0-6 30
Bayer Leverkusen 18 7 8 3 28 20 8 4-6-0 3-2-3 29
1899 Hoffenheim 18 7 5 6 30 28 2 5-2-2 2-3-4 26
Hannover 96 19 7 4 8 22 28 -6 5-1-3 2-3-5 25
Eintracht Frankfurt 19 6 6 7 36 39 -3 4-3-3 2-3-4 24
FSV Mainz 05 19 4 10 5 25 24 1 3-4-2 1-6-3 22
1. FC Köln 18 6 4 8 19 23 -4 1-3-4 5-1-4 22
Werder Bremen 18 5 5 8 28 39 -11 4-3-2 1-2-6 20
SC Paderborn 18 4 7 7 21 31 -10 3-4-2 1-3-5 19
SC Freiburg 19 3 9 7 21 27 -6 2-5-2 1-4-5 18
Hertha BSC Berlin 18 5 3 10 24 37 -13 4-1-4 1-2-6 18
Hamburger SV 18 4 5 9 9 21 -12 3-2-4 1-3-5 17
VfB Stuttgart 18 4 5 9 20 33 -13 1-2-6 3-3-3 17
Borussia Dortmund 18 4 4 10 18 26 -8 3-2-3 1-2-7 16

 

Matija Nastasic completes loan to Schalke as City continue to shuffle

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Both parties have confirmed that Manchester City central defender Matija Nastasic has completed a loan move to Schalke with an option to buy at the end of the season.

Just 21 years of age, Nastasic is vastly experienced for such a young defender, but he has fallen on hard times.

After moving from Fiorentina to City in the summer of 2012, he slid right into the starting lineup to make 21 Premier League appearances and 32 across all competitions. But things have gone downhill since, with his appearance numbers dropping every year in the aftermath of his debut season.

Nastasic appeared 13 times across the title-winning season last year, mostly due to a serious knee injury he sustained in early February that kept him out for the remainder of the campaign. Healthy and rehabbed, Nastasic hasn’t made a single appearance yet this year, not even on the bench once. With captain Vincent Kompany occupying one spot, Manuel Pellegrini has preferred summer buy Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis to the youngster, even though Mangala has been listed by many as one of the summer transfer window busts.

Now, it appears Nastasic will get to try his luck with the Bundesliga. If he becomes a mainstay in the Schalke teamsheet, it will mark his third league he will have been a regular in, a shocking tally for a 21-year-old and a fantastic addition to his resume. Shalke currently sits fifth in the Bundesliga table, and while their defensive record isn’t a disaster, 21 goals allowed in 17 matches is more than anyone above them in the standings.

Schalke plays a 3-at-the-back system under Roberto di Matteo, so there’s plenty of space for Nastasic. The German side already has World Cup defender and team captain Benedikt Howedes at one central spot, but being the most heavily used central defender on the team at 13 league appearances out of a possible 17, the new kid will have plenty of opportunities to earn his keep among Howedes, Joel Matip, Kaan Ayhan, and Jan Kirchhoff.