Weston McKennie has made his return to FC Schalke, but he makes his return as the unlikely outsider looking to get back in to the starting XI.
As an American, there are few players at FC Schalke I adore more than my fellow American Weston McKennie. I have a framed, signed Christmas card sitting right next to my desk, it’s a beautiful thing. So when he suffered an injury right in the thick of Schalke hitting their stride, it was like personally getting stung by a bee.
Now, McKennie is back. He made his return as a substitute in the ill-fated match against Bayern Munich (boo hiss). But the question now is where McKennie fits into the matchday scheme. Because short-term, it looks like he’s going to be a substitute, without much wiggle room.
If you look at the starting XI used against Bayern Munich (boo hiss), you’ll see that we can’t really do much better than that. Obviously Benito Raman will slot in for Rabbi Matondo, but other than that, this is a capable side that was painfully exposed. But that was temporary. We’re much better than how we looked against Bayern (boo hiss).
So how does that relate to Weston McKennie? Well, he’s not going to unseat Omar Mascarell or Suat Serdar. Even when Serdar pulls disappearing acts, he’s still our top scorer. He’s still a sparkplug that can light at any moment.
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And Mascarell, oh captain my captain, is irreplaceable. Leaving McKennie with only two fairly limited ways into the starting XI.
The first is to unseat Daniel Caligiuri. The aging Italian midfielder has been a staple for Die Knappen, but his performances haven’t really taken the turn into consistently positive like he has been in the past. The allure of what could be can only go so far. At the end of the day, he has to get back into reliably positive form or David Wagner is going to have to pull the plug.
That’s the easiest way for McKennie to get back into the mix, depending on how deeply embedded Caligiuri is. The only other way is a philosophical change where Michael Gregoritsch‘s form doesn’t improve after Bayern and he makes way for a loan striker set in Benito Raman, flanked perhaps by Serdar and Harit, with McKennie coming in to add midfield spine.
This seems less likely. We only have a certain amount of time to decide if Gregoritsch is here to stay.
The consolation way is another injury at centerback, at which point McKennie would have to come in.
Whatever the case, McKennie is a competitor at his core, and he is going to find a way back into the staring XI. It’s just a matter of time.