Schalke struck late winner to eliminate plucky Augsburg from the DFB-Pokal and move into the quarter-finals. This was the fifth consecutive game the Gelsenkirchen side had won in all competitions, and they’ll be disappointed that the winter break now eats into that momentum. The defeat was the first suffered by Augsburg in more than two months, but they won’t be too disheartened as they seek to gain promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history.
It was a typical opening to a German game – fast and frenetic, with the ball back and fore with no one side particularly in control. Augsburg already had their defence set deep, but Gibril Sankoh looked to step out throughout the game to mop up and kill the ball during its journey from A to B. On top of the deep defence were two restrained defensive-midfielders: Jos Luhukay was playing a 4-2-3-1, and looking to kill the hole in which Schalke might concoct something for their two strikers – one of whom, Raúl, likes to play in this zone whenever Ivan Rakitić is bobbing elsewhere. This tactic worked against Augsburg defensively as it ensured that the home team’s midfielders were always pinned back, creating an occasional gap to the forward-four that meant the only way a side low on quality could reach them was via a long ball.
Whereas Augsburg at least had an attacking tactic, Schalke seemed to lose all impetus and ideas going forward as soon as the stopwatch hit the tenth minute. Initially, they passed the ball about on the floor near halfway, trying to draw their hosts out, before running the ball at the deep defence – exploiting the gap between wide-attacker and full-back Augsburg had left. Lukas Schmitz was rampant within that quality-telling ten minute spell, but Paul Verhaegh gradually began to cork him, and shuttled forward more freely himself down the flank. To be fair, Schalke did start to come back into things five minutes before the break, this time using the opposite flank as the tricky Jefferson Farfán sought to take advantage of the static and deep Axel Bellinghausen. But as had been the case in the previous 40 minutes – the same applies to Augsburg, particularly Tobias Werner, too – the ball into the box was weak. Continue reading