Schalke need to make tactical changes and get more from Amine Harit

Schalke 04, Amine Harit (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Schalke 04, Amine Harit (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) /

Amine Harit was one of the Bundesliga’s best players in the Hinrunde, leading the charge for FC Schalke 04 as they staked their claim as title contenders. Lately, however, the wheels have fallen off the Royal Blues’ bandwagon, and Harit can’t be absolved from shouldering some blame.

Other teams have figured out FC Schalke 04. Amine Harit recently said it himself in an interview, and it’s hard not to come to the same conclusion after watching Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann completely embarrass David Wagner tactically in the Royal Blues’ last two big games.

It’s not like they showed up to play against relegation candidates Hertha Berlin, Mainz, or SC Paderborn 07 either, drawing all three teams with only a goal in those Bundesliga matches.

Schalke have looked vulnerable in defense, disorganized in midfield, and completely impotent in attack. Injuries have played a role in this, of course, as key players like Suat Serdar, Jonjoe Kenny, Benito Raman, and Daniel Caligiuri have missed time at various points in the Rückrunde.

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Even so, nothing excuses TWO 5-0 losses – one such defeat is awful enough.

There are several things Wagner must fix going into Saturday’s big game against a resurgent FC Köln, but getting the most out of his best player should be a priority.

Amine Harit is one of the most talented players in the Bundesliga. The game almost seems to stand still when he’s on the ball, and his dribbling ability is by far the best in the Bundesliga. Nobody – not even Jadon Sancho, who is the league’s best overall player – can draw fouls like Harit. And nobody turns it up in the clutch like Harit. Schalke have several points in the table that are directly a result of Harit’s work, including winning goals against Mainz and Augsburg.

Harit, however, has cooled off lately. He hasn’t assisted a goal since a masterclass of a performance on Dec. 15 in a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, and the Morocco international hasn’t scored since Nov. 23 in another brilliant performance against Werder Bremen.

One of the problems is that Schalke are creating the wrong overloads. Instead of keeping Harit centrally, he is shifting to the left and trying to play one-twos with the sluggish Bastian Oczipka, who also has to stay further back in case a counterattack takes place. Unlike Jonjoe Kenny, he isn’t gifted with pace, nor does he have the faster of the two center backs covering his side.

So Oczipka stays back, Harit runs into trouble, no center midfielders are available for an outlet pass since Harit is the No. 10 who would normally help a teammate recycle the ball, and Schalke end up losing possession. It’s a cycle that has repeated itself lately.

Even against Paderborn when Harit had six dribbles completed, four key passes, and three fouls drawn, per, fans couldn’t help but notice how frequently Harit lost the ball. Normally, they’d be gloating about his individual brilliance, but in a 1-1 draw with little to show in the attack, Harit’s positives were outweighed by the mistakes. And the numbers are similar – albeit less striking – against Mainz and Leipzig.

Teams have realized that everything Schalke does comes from Harit creating attacks, threading plays together, and beating defenses. They’ve made every effort to isolate Harit, preferably on the side with Oczipka, and no adjustments have been made by Wagner. No clever movements from the forwards and center midfielders. Nothing.

Two keys can rectify this and allow Harit to be more dangerous and stay centrally. They can use Michael Gregoritsch to drop off deeper and become a No. 10, finding someone else to create width instead of Benito Raman on the other side. Suat Serdar can become more of a ball-carrying midfielder and create the overlaps with Oczipka, allowing Harit more space. Or Alessandro Schöpf can start on the right with Weston McKennie kicking inside, allowing Raman to roam as the lone striker with Harit supporting him in a more advanced No. 10 role a la Gregoritsch.

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Really, they have to try SOMETHING. Because asking Harit to carry the entire attack on his own is unfair and will lead to more frustrating dispossessions for Schalke. Harit is too good to not have more support from the coaching staff, and the lack of ideas is hurting other players’ form, such as Gregoritsch and Raman, who have been woeful in these last few games. They, like Harit, are capable of so much more, and it’s up to Wagner to find the magic formula.