Schalke staggering towards another shambles after Hoffenheim draw

Jens Keller's tenure looks close to implosion after 3-1 lead let slip and Jermaine Jones is first banned and then reprieved

I've got the blues, what shall I do? (Marvin Jenkins)

The defence was a shambles, the midfield disorganised, the attack shamefully dependent on one key player. The whole team were simply going through the motions on Saturday and another poor result plunged them deep into mid-table mediocrity. Shockingly, they have won only two matches in the league so far. And there's a very tough Champions League away game to contend with, too.

Oh boy, oh boy. How badly Schalke 04 could do with somebody like David Moyes right now. Or perhaps not. You might remember that the Scotsman was a very strong contender for the Royal Blues job in the minds of one or two very imaginative UK reporters ("he likes the Bundesliga and his team wear blue – he's on the Schalke short-list!") but it's of course impossible to know how things could have worked out for all parties if the S04 sporting director, Horst Heldt, had indeed taken inspiration from Fleet Street. As it is, the club who are always threatening to become Germany's bona fide third force but never quite deliver, are still saddled with Jens Keller as manager, and surprise, surprise nothing has changed: Schalke remain incapable of stringing two convincing halves together, let alone three matches.

Things started well enough in the Rhein-Neckar-Stadion. A wonderful goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng, who was employed as a striker in the absence of other qualified staff, gave the visitors the lead inside three minutes. Joel Matip (13) and Marco Höger (40) made it 3-1 at the break; Anthony Modeste had scored for the quite comprehensively outplayed Hoffenheim (16). Schalke were coasting, in complete control. But then they went "out of their minds", as Heldt put it. Dennis Aogo unlocked the gates of madness with a senseless foul in the box; Roberto Firmino made it 3-2 (48). The TSG defender David Abraham scored the equaliser with a fine free-kick (61), and then Schalke did their very best to lose the game in the dying minutes, when the visitors' erstwhile composure drowned in a sea of crass mistakes.

Boateng, one of only a couple of Schalke players who weren't affected by the sudden onset of brain-freeze, complained that complacency had led to "tralala football", as Bild put it. "You're 2-0 and 3-1 up – everybody thinks it's so easy," he said. "Then you backheel and flick it, and the opponent gets back into the game. I'm angry." So was Heldt. "These things happen too often," said the 43-year-old. "It's unacceptable. A top team would have won this game. But we kept inviting them after the equaliser and could have conceded two more goals."

Keller professed "total disappointment". Was it a question of attitude, the man from Sky wanted to know? "Stop it with this shit question about attitude – we made some horrendous individual mistakes," Keller shot back. "This is not about attitude but with one or two people's heads." Was Keller saying that some of his players were too stupid? Or did he allude to a lack of concentration?

For Heldt, Schalke's two-faced performance brought on a moment of Rumsfeldian logic. "We know we have certainty of uncertainty," he said.

This is where this story of a typically nuts 3-3 draw in the Bundesliga could have ended. But Heldt felt he had to go the extra mile in order to quash recurrent doubts about Keller's competence. "What is the manager to do?" he asked rhetorically, before shifting the blame solely on to the players and questioning their suitability for the job. "We will exchange views and then make changes," he threatened. "The club will examine who's reliable and who isn't."

The next day the midfielder Jermaine Jones was banned from the squad for the Champions League game at Basel. The 31-year-old told Sport Bild that he'd use the opportunity to have knee surgery but then backtracked via Twitter the following day: "On my way to training soon!! Surgery ?? No... Schalke 04 is more important atm!! Reading BILD is always the funniest moment of my day!" That change of heart was probably motivated by a talk with his agent, speculated Königsblog.

"The coaching team" had made the decision to suspend a player who had featured in all games this season and been declared "a leader" by Keller only a few days before, explained Heldt, and it sounded as if he himself had been party to that peculiar move. Such drastic measures have become quite popular in the Bundesliga, even though they always smack of managerial weakness or at least of a strong urge to be seen to be doing something tough. In the club's defence, WAZ reported that Jones had immediately handed in a sick-note after coming in for some personal criticism in a team meeting. Maybe the punishment was warranted to a certain extent but it's hard not to see Jones as a convenient scapegoat for the current malaise. He's out of contract in the summer and Schalke have little interest in renewing his €4m-a-year deal. There's little support for him in the dressing room either.

Whether making an example of Jones will get Schalke to perform to their potential with a bit more consistency is less sure, however. Felix Magath went down the same route a couple of years ago in a vain effort to deflect from his own shortcomings. Heldt's attempts to move the discussion away from the man he appointed at a time when Markus Gisdol, the widely respected Hoffenheim coach, was working as Huub Stevens' assistant and was thus available are similarly transparent, if not to everyone on the Schalke board.

Heldt, a man who's become German football's leading authority in surviving self-afflicted problems, surely has already prepared a narrative in case Schalke slip up in Europe and get left further behind in the league. "Keller was a great manager but it didn't work out between him and the [nasty] players," he'll tell us, before appointing another hard-man in the Magath/Stevens mould. Schalke's plight is worse than a crisis, it's become a condition: they seem forever stuck in their own little, melancholic niche, somewhere between quite-but-not-really-good and occasionally terrible.

Talking points

• Stefan Kiessling didn't score in Leverkusen's 2-0 win over Hannover but the 29-year-old could count himself among the big winners of matchday seven: the national manager Joachim Löw announced that he'd call him up. On the telephone, possibly. "I have never written him off, we'll talk internally and then see," explained Löw, who was drawing the fixtures of the next DFB Cup round – "Losfee", draw fairy, Germans call that role – in Sportschau on Sunday night.

It would make for an extraordinary comeback after Kiessling had declared he'd never play under Löw again only a few weeks ago. The Germany boss might have little choice but to go cap (or shawl) in hand and beg for him to reconsider. Mario Gómez is definitely out with a knee injury and Miroslav Klose is likely to miss the next two World Cup qualifiers, too.

•The new Hamburg manager Bert van Marwijk won a point in somewhat fortuitous fashion – a last-minute equaliser from Marcell Jansen – at Frankfurt. The post-match reactions were a posthumous settling of accounts with his predecessor Thorsten Fink. "We now have a manager with a clear idea," said the goalkeeper Rene Adler, one of many Hamburg players who felt this way.

• Dortmund destroyed Freiburg 5-0 with Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski each scoring a brace. Jürgen Klopp will have to spend Tuesday's Champions League game against Marseille in the stands after he was sent off against Napoli for looking too scary – but reckons he won't need wired-up woolly hats or laundry trolleys to get his message across. "Me and [assistant] Zeljko Buvac work together telepathically," said the coach. Hopefully there won't be too much interference on Tuesday night.

Results Augsburg 2-2 Gladbach, Dortmund 5-0 Freiburg, Bayern 1-0 Wolfsburg, Hertha BSC 3-1 Mainz, Frankfurt 2-2 Hamburg, Leverkusen 2-0 Hannover, Hoffenheim 3-3 Schalke, Werder Bremen 3-3 Nürnberg, Braunschweig 0-4 Stuttgart.

Rafael Honigstein

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bayern Munich on course for another title with the rest up for grabs | Raphael Honigstein
Raphael Honigstein: Bayern Munich are so dominant that many believe the new-moneyed teams, such as VfL Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, will challenge them rather than the traditional big boys

Raphael Honigstein

06, Oct, 2014 @10:00 PM

Article image
Selfish Messiah Magath brings first title to Wolfsburg

Raphael Honigstein: Felix Magath's irrepressible Wolfsburg won the title with a 5-1 demolition of Werder – but now he is off to Schalke

Raphael Honigstein

25, May, 2009 @5:05 PM

Article image
Bundesliga 2011-12 season preview | Raphael Honigstein
Raphael Honigstein: Most German teams are following Dortmund's lead and putting their faith in youth, but can anyone stop big-spending Bayern?

Raphael Honigstein

05, Aug, 2011 @8:18 AM

Article image
A Bundesliga battle royal beckons | Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein: After a summer of signings, sackings and club fatwas, among other things, the wait for the new German season is almost over

Raphael Honigstein

06, Aug, 2009 @10:40 AM

Article image
The Honigsteins 2014: an exhaustive review of the Bundesliga season | Raphael Honigstein
Raphael Honigstein: Despite Bayern’s procession to the title, there was still plenty of unpredictability, from Hamburg’s struggles to Hoffenheim’s headless mascot and Leverkusen’s phantom goal

Raphael Honigstein

02, Jun, 2014 @9:05 AM

Article image
Raphael Honigstein: Hertha Berlin's rise to the Bundesliga's summit is no joke
Raphael Honigstein: Lucien Favre's minimalist side have mystified the pundits by becoming the Bundesliga's latest leaders

Raphael Honigstein

17, Feb, 2009 @3:02 PM

Article image
Bayern Munich back on track after Thomas Müller's wonder strike | Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein: Franck Ribéry looks to be back to his very best but he was upstaged by Thomas Müller in win at Hamburg

Raphael Honigstein

05, Nov, 2012 @4:44 PM

Article image
Raphael Honigstein: Hoffenheim take Bundesliga's Winter Championship despite limp draw against Schalke
Raphael Honigstein: The season's surprise package go into the winter break on top of the table but a tired draw against Schalke hints at tougher times ahead

Raphael Honigstein

15, Dec, 2008 @3:01 PM

Article image
Bundesliga: Raphael Honigstein on Hoffenheim's demolition of Hannover and Bayern Munich's win

Bayern's return to winning ways means attention can turn to the team causing most excitement in the Bundesliga: Hoffenheim

Raphael Honigstein

21, Oct, 2008 @7:52 AM

Article image
Raphael Honigstein: Bundesliga winter rest makes no difference as big guns resume bad habits

Raphael Honigstein: The Bundesliga's return from its winter break changed nothing as Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen resumed losing ways

Raphael Honigstein

04, Feb, 2009 @5:42 PM