Schalke boss not only one worried

Schalke always have three managers, their supporters will tell you: the last one, the present one and the next one.

For Roberto Di Matteo, already under scrutiny seven weeks into his new job, that sense of insecurity is probably a familiar feeling, but he is not alone.

The fifth round of Champions League matches this week will be a tense time for more established managers as well, even this early in the season.

Brendan Rodgers is now under particular pressure to deliver, in a match that ought to be straightforward but isn’t.

Arsene Wenger needs a reassuring performance from his team tomorrow night and his opposite number Jurgen Klopp is another being questioned, even though Borussia Dortmund are already through to the next round.

Massimo Allegri faces a nervy night in Sweden as Juventus have a patchy away record, particularly against Scandinavian opposition.

Uefa’s statisticians tell us that over the past 11 seasons second-placed teams have averaged 10.1 points. So three wins and a draw, or two wins and four draws, are usually enough to make the last 16.

But teams can go through with a lot less than the Magic 10. It has happened on nine occasions in the past five seasons. Milan have managed it three times. Last year Zenit St Petersburg achieved the rare distinction of qualifying with a solitary win and three draws.

So even if Liverpool and Juventus slip up this week, all is not lost. It is also very unusual for sides to win all their group stage matches. Apart from Real Madrid four years ago no-one has done that, so it would be a real surprise if Madrid and Dortmund maintained their 100% record. A potential lifeline for Rodgers is that Liverpool’s final game is at home against Basle.

Dortmund are the enigma of this competition so far. How can a team that performs so well against foreign opposition be doing so poorly at home? Five consecutive defeats in five weeks are hard to explain, even though Klopp appears to have steadied the ship in the past fortnight.

Bad luck is one explanation, and it is true that all those defeats were by a single goal in matches in which Dortmund made enough chances to win. So a second explanation is that Dortmund are paying the price for losing Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich.

The third explanation is that Klopp’s brilliant counter-attacking tactics have been rumbled. Bundesliga teams are no longer charging forward and then getting caught on the break. So goals are at more of a premium, and a missed chance has become more costly. At their peak Dortmund were hammering opponents by four or five, now they are having to adjust and Plans B and C have still to be fully realised.

That perhaps helps to put the gossip about Klopp as a possible replacement for Wenger into perspective.

As Dortmund manager he has produced exciting successful football, but has sometimes been exposed when seeking to change the course of a game. Klopp is also great at PR, and he’s worked on a budget. But a lot of that is down to the shrewd transfer policy of Dortmund’s sport director Michael Zorc, who exploited the Polish market with more success than Arsenal.

It also helped that Klopp built his reputation and then won silverware with Dortmund after a rare Bayern eclipse, partial if not total, when the Bundesliga was also won by Wolfsburg.

Di Matteo likewise owes his appointment at Schalke to a Bayern eclipse. That Champions League win carries exceptional weight, some would say exaggerated, in Germany, helped by the fact that Di Matteo speaks the language like a native and is unruffled by the media.

He has embarked on a brave strategy, introducing a tough new fitness regime and a different formation, including a three-man defence. The verdict so far is mixed, their best result coming in Saturday’s 3-2 win against Wolfsburg, but their home form has been good, including a big derby win against Dortmund.

That was before Di Matteo’s appointment though. For him, tonight’s game is definitely the big one.


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