FC Schalke 04: 3 players on Gladbach to watch for Matchday 18

Schalke 04, Breel Embolo(Photo by Andreas Gora/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Schalke 04, Breel Embolo(Photo by Andreas Gora/picture alliance via Getty Images) /

FC Schalke 04 will face Borussia Monchengladbach on Matchday 18 in a battle between the Bundesliga’s second and fifth-placed teams. Here are five players for the Royal Blues to watch on the Gladbach side.

Borussia Monchengladbach spent much of the Hinrunde as the Bundesliga’s top side, and while they have since been overtaken by Julian Nagelsmann’s extraordinary RB Leipzig outfit, they still look like shoe-ins for the UEFA Champions League next season. So it will take a strong effort at home from FC Schalke 04 to pick up points against Gladbach.

A familiar face in Breel Embolo will greet Schalke on Friday evening in the first game of the Rückrunde, but there are other players on Gladbach that David Wagner will have to plan for.

Here are three players for Schalke to watch closely.

CM Denis Zakaria

Denis Zakaria has long been tabbed as one of the best young center midfielders in the Bundesliga, and the 2019-2020 season has been a breakout campaign for the Switzerland international under new manager Marco Rose.

Per WhoScored.com, Zakaria leads all midfielders and forwards on the team with an 86% pass completion percentage. He also tops the team with 2.3 tackles per game and is contributing 1.8 interceptions per game to add to the important defensive cover he gives to an above-average back four. On the ball, Zakaria is averaging 1.9 dribbles per game, with only Bundesliga Player of the Year candidate Marcus Thuram averaging a higher mark on the team.

In short, Zakaria is the perfect box-to-box midfielder. He is strong on the ball, he always finds the right pass, and his defensive work is top-notch. He has to be considered, alongside Suat Serdar and Omar Mascarell, as one of the best center midfielders in the league. Schalke vs. Gladbach will be strength vs. strength when Zakaria goes to battle with the Royal Blues’ midfielders, and finding a way to deal with Zakaria will be a key to victory.

AM Breel Embolo

A versatile weapon who benefits any attack, Breel Embolo has been missed in Gelsenkirchen, even if the team is doing much better in 2019-2020. Embolo has shown his quality time after time for Borussia Monchengladbach this season, and while Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram are bigger stars, Embolo is a key part of Gladbach’s formidable front three.

The Switzerland international is tied with Thuram for the team lead in goals with six. He averages 1.9 dribbles per game and draws 1.7 fouls per game as a catalyst for his team’s attacks. A goal-getter who always looks to make things happen on the ball, Embolo’s only weakness is how frequently he runs himself into trouble.

If Schalke can keep him out of the box and force him to hold the ball up himself, they can puncture the potency of Gladbach’s attack. Embolo will be the X-Factor in this game.

CF Marcus Thuram

Although Marcus Thuram isn’t scoring at the astounding rates of Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner, you could make the argument that no forward is more valuable to his team’s success. Marco Rose’s entire tactical system revolves around Thuram’s genius off the ball, creative play, and hard work in the pressing game.

Thuram is the kind of striker who can give Schalke nightmares. He’s capable of outsmarting Ozan Kabak and going toe-to-toe with any of Schalke’s defenders physically. The France international is the total package as a center forward and could easily emerge from Matchday 18 with multiple goals and assists if not kept in check.

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David Wagner will have to mull over carefully how to deal with Thuram’s threat, because he is an unselfish, multi-talented forward with six goals and five assists this season. He is a nightmare to stop on the ball when he gets going, and his combination play with Embolo and Plea can be devastating.