Schalke: 3 players who must step up with Ozan Kabak injured

Jean-Clair Todibo of FC Schalke 04 (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Jean-Clair Todibo of FC Schalke 04 (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) /

FC Schalke 04 superstar center back Ozan Kabak will be out with a bruised pelvis, and these three players must step up in his absence.

Although FC Schalke 04 have been bitten hard by the injury bug all season long, their recent rash of injuries has been especially insidious. Suat Serdar, Omar Mascarell, and Ozan Kabak are all out with serious injuries, while Benjamin Stambouli, Salif Sane, and Daniel Caligiuri remain injured.

On Tuesday night, Schalke must use a depleted starting XI to defend the Veltins Arena in the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokal against Bayern Munich, who are riding high after blowing out Hoffenheim and Chelsea last week. Bayern lead the league and also defeated Schalke at the Allianz Arena 5-0 in late January.

The biggest injury of the trio for Tuesday’s game will be Kabak’s absence. He suffered a bruised pelvis and will miss some time.

Here are three players who must step up during his time away from the lineup.

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CB Jean-Clair Todibo

Schalke center back Jean-Clair Todibo is another young, talented defender with superstar potential. Like Ozan Kabak, Todibo is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is an aggressive defender who can rack up tackles and interceptions. His work rate is phenomenal, and he reads the game like a veteran.

He isn’t quite on Kabak’s level, but he isn’t far off either and can, like Kabak, hang with the most athletic strikers in the league.

Todibo’s agility and instincts will be crucial, even with Robert Lewandowski out of the lineup. Bayern still have heavy artillery in their attack, with Serge Gnabry being a particular danger man.

CB Matija Nastasic

Likewise, Todibo’s center back partner Matija Nastasic will have to be at his best. Nastasic was a major weak link against Bayern in their earlier tie this year, though that could be said about the rest of the starting XI. Still, Nastasic was much more exposed by Bayern’s attack than Kabak, who seemed to be the only competent player in the entire Royal Blues’ lineup.

Nastasic is a calm center back who plays more of a sweeper role alongside either Todibo or Kabak. His athletic limitations and uninventive passing, however, make him a weaker starting option than Kabak, and he can get exposed by elite attackers. Nastasic must be at his best in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals in order for the Royal Blues to pull off an upset.

CM Weston McKennie

It isn’t just the center backs who will need to step up with Kabak injured. Kabak was a great ball-carrier for the attack whenever Schalke needed an extra man to help, as he would often take the initiative by running at the defense when there was space or when the team was simply out of ideas. And lately, David Wagner has seemed to be a man struggling to find the right formula.

Bayern and Hansi Flick figured him out last time, and Bayern will benefit greatly from Kabak’s absence on the ball. That means center midfielder Weston McKennie, who already has to play the role of two stars with Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar hurt, needs to be the new man to take the initiative.

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He needs to read the game like Kabak, make runs like Kabak, and try for those deep passes like Kabak. It won’t be easy, but McKennie is one of the few players in the Bundesliga with the tools to do it.