FC St. Pauli won 2-1 against Schalke 04. Once again, the team in brown and white was convincing offensively, especially in the first half, and was able to lay the foundation for the ultimately deserved victory. Schalke 04 offered frighteningly little, but also seemed powerless against a strong defensive performance by FCSP. The victory brings FC St. Pauli the “Herbstmeisterschaft” (being top of the league after the first leg of the season), a record first round and a record home series.
(Cover picture: Peter Böhmer)
Compared to the away win in Nuremberg, FC St. Pauli changed only one position: For Sebastian Ohlsson, the fit Luca Zander moved to the right-back position. Otherwise, the coaching team relied on the starting eleven players who had been successful in Nuremberg and thus continued to use the 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond.
Schalke 04, on the other hand, made several changes. Victor Pálsson came in for young Florian Flick, who had to miss the game due to a laceration. The position of the right wing-back was again taken by Mehmet Aydin, who had been on the bench in the previous match against Sandhausen. He replaced Reinhold Ranftl, who was not only older name-wise. At the front, Schalke had to cope with the absence of Churlinov, Terodde and, at short notice, Marius Bülter. As a result, Rufat Dadashov, who had previously only played in the Regionalliga team, moved straight into the starting eleven. Felix Wienand, Jimmy Kaparos (both U23) and Keke Topp (U19) were also in the line-up.
Surprisingly full control
In the preliminary report, Schalke was described as a dangerous team that likes to press high. There was absolutely nothing of that in the entire first half. Schalke 04 offered shockingly little and was very passive in FC St. Pauli’s possession. This was due to the fact that Schalke’s previously praised pressing was extremely poor. The positioning of the Schalke full-backs was decisive. I would even go so far as to say that it was decisive for the game.
When in possession, FC St. Pauli was extremely clever, especially in attack. Guido Burgstaller and Igor Matanović moved wide to the outer lanes whenever their own team kept the ball in their own ranks in a controlled manner. In this way, FCSP wanted to “get Schalke’s back of three moving”, as Loic Favé told us at the press conference after the match. This was quite different, for example, from the game against Sandhausen (here is the analysis of that game), when FCSP’s three attackers always came together in a ball at the centre front.
From my point of view, the positioning of the forwards was decisive for the game because it had an influence on the behaviour of Schalke’s wing defenders in their run-up behaviour. When FC St. Pauli had possession of the ball, it was always up to these wing defenders, Ouwejan and Aydin, to run at the brown and white wing defenders. However, by positioning Matanović and Burgstaller on the far outside, Schalke’s wing-backs allowed themselves to be tied up at the back of the chain. The way to run at the FCSP defenders was therefore very long so that this positioning of the FCSP attackers bought time for their own defenders. And time is something that FC St. Pauli should definitely not be given in the build-up play. FCSP were able to play their now league-wide feared offensive game because they had no opponent pressure on the so important wing-back positions. The match plan was a complete success (and a complete failure for Schalke).
After Schalke played with a five-man backline for the first time and didn’t really start on the outside, they made a few changes in the course of the first half: The wing defender on the far side of the ball now consistently dropped into the chain, so that the outside centre defender near the ball could follow the strikers’ path to the outside without hesitation. This meant that Schalke actually played with a four-man backline. It didn’t help very much. Because FCSP knew well how to shift the game again and again so that both wing defenders still had to go a lot of ways. It was only in the second half that Schalke made more consistent changes, as Schalke’s co-trainer Sven Piepenbrock confirmed at the post-match press conference (“We were too hesitant in the first half and didn’t want to give up space too early. Then we made a change.”).
GB9 – Chief of the forwards, chief of the defenders
After the first half, however, it was actually too late for such an effective change. FC St. Pauli made the most of the space in the first 45 minutes, once again creating a large number of scoring chances and repeatedly breaking through on the flanks. Of course, it was Guido Burgstaller who scored the two goals. It was also him who consistently played the spaces on the flanks (look where he is standing in space before the 1:0 – exactly between the centre back and the full-back, i.e. where a team with a five-man backline is most vulnerable). And once again it was Burgstaller who set the tone in terms of defensive work. An incredible workload, which he reeled off, as he did against Nuremberg. He’s certainly the best striker FCSP has had in its ranks for years, but the way he works defensively, runs at opponents, moves smartly in space and coaches his teammates – as a coach I’d keep him on even if he hadn’t scored a single goal yet. Of course, 14 goals in 16 games is a real exclamation mark and I wouldn’t want to do without it. But Guido Burgstaller gives the team so much more than just scoring goals.
Now comes the section describing Schalke 04’s “attacking play”. I deliberately write that in “”, because this attacking play was simply not existing in the first 45 minutes. FC Schalke 04 is a team with pretty clear goals this season. In addition, the squad has a truly remarkable individual quality in all positions. However, the only things they offered yesterday at the Millerntor were set pieces and individual actions. It was frightening how few playful solutions this team found to the admittedly very good defensive behaviour of FC St. Pauli. The fact that a team with these demands and this individual quality really has no playful solutions in difficult situations after almost half of the season is actually a crime and should raise massive worry lines on the foreheads of everyone at Schalke.
Even in the 2nd half, it was almost only individual actions that created more danger. One recurring one, for example, was Dominick Drexler moving from his central position to the left-wing in order to overload that side together with Ouwejan. I specifically asked Schalke’s assistant coach at the press conference whether this was a plan or a situational move by Drexler. He confirmed the impression and explained that Drexler himself created these situations. The only real tactical change to strengthen the own build-up play (the change of the wing defenders happened to improve the run-up behaviour) were the movements of the outer centre backs Kaminski and especially Thiaw. There was always room for them to dribble, as they were playing with their three-man backline against two strikers. They did this much more often in the second half (possibly because they simply had to take more risks). But they only used this dribbling to play a high ball afterwards. There was no combination football at all from Schalke.
A defence made of granite – just like Real Madrid once did
Schalke’s offensive performance was also disappointing because FC St. Pauli showed a very concentrated and compact defensive performance. It was interesting to see how well and orderly the defence defended in a man-oriented manner and at the same time offered a good distribution of space:
As already described, Burgstaller and Matanović closed the space in front (and actually only ran directly when goalkeeper Fraisl got the ball back). Behind them, Kyereh chained up the opposing six in the already familiar manner (which also succeeded: Pálsson only played 15 passes – half as many as, for example, Eric Smith on the opposite side (sofascore)). What was decisive was what happened behind them in the half-areas: Drexler and Zalazar were exactly the two players who had to be closely guarded. But there were three players in Hartel, Smith and Irvine. But at the same time, they also had to run at the wing defenders or guard them closely when the ball was on their side. Especially at the start of the second half, when Schalke had longer periods of possession, it was a real joy to watch the trio shifting neatly, handing off opponents without a word and thus keeping four opponents at bay at the same time. The wing-back on the far side of the ball was always left free to run into from the halfway position. Smith then took over the opponent’s eighth player on the near side of the ball, while the other FCSP eighth player took over the player in the half-space on the far side of the ball. And if Schalke shifted more quickly, there were still the FCSP defenders who could run on. Centrally, there was nothing to worry about anyway. Ziereis and Lawrence had no problems with Pieringer and Dadashov. Whether it would have been the same with Bülter and Terodde is of course another story. But as it was, it was just mega compact and played really well and concentrated. To take just a few examples: Marcel Hartel cooked off Rodrigo Zalazar time and again, Eric Smith stifled countless switching moments with good forward defence (and is simply the most complete player at the six the division has to offer) and Philipp Ziereis showed in Jakov Medić’s absence that he too is a really strong header. Hats off to this defensive performance of the team! I enjoyed it very much!
Nevertheless, Schalke scored the tie-breaking goal. With all the love for FC St. Pauli’s good offensive play: More than a 2:0 lead must come out of this superiority. It is remarkable how similar this match was to the game against Sandhausen: An outstanding first half, then actually further control of the game, and suddenly, out of nowhere, the connecting goal.
While the old advantage was quickly restored against Sandhausen, a real fight developed against Schalke. Schalke succeeded in trapping FCSP – very cheaply with long balls. However, it became exciting not because Schalke built up more pressure, but because FC St. Pauli was sometimes dilettantish with their switching situations. Schalke opened more and more spaces with every minute of the game, but the more these spaces opened up, the worse FC St. Pauli seemed to play their transition moments.
So the game remained exciting until the end, although FC St. Pauli was clearly the better team and Schalke really had very few means at their disposal to build up pressure.
FC St. Pauli, however, remained stable and did not allow any more big chances (and even generated many more chances of their own during this time). And so the team got what it deserved for this performance: another home win. The eighth in a row (a record). FC St. Pauli has now won all its home games in the first half of the season. And there was not one of them where the performance was not right. Most of the opponents (Kiel, HSV, Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Dresden, Rostock, Sandhausen, Schalke) were played into the ground and the winner was already clear after 45 minutes. What a fantastic series.
Master of all classes – at least…
I hope this series doesn’t end. Because I just can’t get enough of the football that FC St. Pauli is playing this season. At the moment, almost everything fits together, it’s like a never-ending intoxication. Of course, I’m already afraid of the hangover when the high ends. But even if one game doesn’t kick so well, the next one kicks all the more.
This intoxication, this great football now has its first title: FC St. Pauli is Herbstmeister with an incredible 35 points, even before the end of the first half of the season. Nobody can buy anything from that, of course. But do you have any idea how fat my grin has been since the final whistle?! Boah ey, St. Pauli please, never pass!
Keep on moving forward!
//Tim (translation by Arne)