How Alexander Schwolow can help the team to stay up

Schalke newcomer Alexander Schwolow: The goalkeeper could play a central role in the goal of staying up. Bild: / imago images


Sasha felter

As is well known, many roads lead to Rome. In the case of Alexander Schwolow, however, it is not the eternal city. It’s Gelsenkirchen. After there were rumors in the summer of 2020 about a possible move to the Ruhr area, the final implementation followed this year.

But what would have been an undoubtedly strong transfer for both sides two seasons ago now seems to be an emergency solution. On the one hand for Schalke, who are said to have targeted Stefan Ortega, one of the best keepers of the past two seasons, in addition to U21 European champion Finn Dahmen. On the other hand, also for Schwolow himself. After two rather unfortunate years in Berlin, he lagged behind the form of his old days for a long time.

The now 30-year-old no longer comes to Gelsenkirchen as a high-flyer. S04 will also play a different role this season than two years ago. As a promoted team, the young squad needs a confident goalkeeper more than ever.

Great expectations of Schwolow at Hertha BSC

The past two seasons have not been what Schwolow expected. He was originally supposed to replace Rune Jarstein at Hertha Rune and become number 1 at the “Big City Club”. After all, Hertha’s sports director at the time, Michael Preetz, put an estimated seven million euros on the table and presumably outperformed Schalke 04.

For comparison: only six keepers moved to or within the Bundesliga for more money at the time. So the pressure on the native of Wiesbaden was high.

Perhaps that was exactly the problem that Schwolow was confronted with in the capital. In Freiburg and before that in Bielefeld, where he was loaned out for a year, the environment was much quieter. He was more likely to be forgiven for mistakes and the media pressure was much lower even during training sessions. Of course, that cannot be an excuse for the mixed performance in two years.

At Hertha, Schwolow often had to reach behind.

At Hertha, Schwolow often had to reach behind. Image: imago images / Sven Sunday

Victims of the situation at Hertha BSC

It was also an interaction of the squad constellation at the old lady. As a newcomer to a team that is not always solid, goalkeepers have it even more difficult. If then, as in the case of Schwolow, the entire back team is changed again and again, the chaos is perfect.

Of the 50 games that the goalkeeper played for Hertha, he had a small core of players in Niklas Stark, Peter Pekarik, Lucas Tousart and Vladimir Darida, with whom he played at least 40 times.

The other important positions, a second defensive midfielder and central and external defenders, were always filled differently by the respective coach. There is still no talk of experiments with a chain of three or five.

That means: A goalkeeper needs his cornerstones on the field and has to know the behavior of his colleagues. “Does my full-back let the striker cross?”, “Does the center-back extend a long ball with his head?” or “Does my six interfere with the opponent’s long-range shot?” are just a few of the questions that go through the head of a keeper during a game.

Is Schwolow made for the relegation battle?

Such adaptability is a prerequisite for an above-average Bundesliga goalkeeper, as Schwolow definitely was during his time at SC Freiburg. But maybe the former U20 international is just not made for the relegation battle. Before his time in the capital, he “enjoyed” this phenomenon only once.

Both in the 3rd division with Bielefeld and when he returned to Breisgau in 2015, he was an important part of the winning team. Only in the 2017/18 season did the SC worry about relegation, otherwise it stayed in the solid middle of the table. Always within striking distance of the international rankings.

The time in Freiburg and Bielefeld showed that Schwolow can play under pressure. It doesn’t matter whether he was playing for promotion to the second or first Bundesliga. Delivering every weekend is challenging at every level.

It’s just a different kind of pressure and it’s possible that the 30-year-old was lucky to have always been part of a team that had a clear plan. On good days, the SCF has even dominated its opponents in the Bundesliga with and without the ball.

Schwolow was able to go with the flow and fit into the team structure. This is nothing reprehensible, on the contrary. Good team players who thrive in a functioning squad are everywhere and absolutely necessary.

The coming season will show what role the new signing will play between the posts at Schalke. Either he lets himself be carried by the collective again and finds his way back to his “old” game. Or he tries again to grow into a role that hasn’t really suited him so far.

Schwolow with a few glaring weaknesses

After all, Schwolow’s potential is there. He has a decent technique with which he can handle balls with one, maximum two contacts. In the last two years he has had a decent rate of around 42 percent and 48 percent on long balls. This put him in the top quarter of the Bundesliga.

Precise, long balls should be an important factor under new coach Frank Kramer. With Sebastian Polter and Simon Terodde, the keeper has corresponding fixed points.

There are basically a few glaring weaknesses on the line at Schwolow. Hair-raising blunders were rarely seen with him in Berlin either. But also no brilliant saves, with which he once held one or the other point. He will also be dependent on the men in front of him.

Alexander Schwolow experienced his most successful time at SC Freiburg.

Alexander Schwolow experienced his most successful time at SC Freiburg.Bild. IMAGO / motivio

Keepers like Oliver Baumann and Roman Bürki have shone in Freiburg in recent years because the SCF understood well how to allow fewer shots inside the penalty area or how to disturb the striker in such a way that the shot was unclean. Only four times in the last ten years has the percentage of shots saved by a Freiburg keeper fallen below 70 percent – mind you, with a team that rarely made it into the top 6.

Since Schwolow doesn’t always make the best decisions in one-on-ones and can be pulled forward too often as soon as a striker enters the penalty area, defender Yoshida and his teammates will have to play their part in the Neu-Schalke’s success.

If the structures are clear, however, the newcomer can develop into a permanent fixture in the Schalke game. His reflexes are above average. Schwolow also has good coordination on the line. He adapts his position well after crosses and masters both foot defense and fast dives with ease.

Schwolow knows the situation at Schalke

However, it is much more important that no false promises are made to him this time. At Schalke it will be clear that the only thing that matters is staying up. One likes to take ambitions upwards with him, but only if the points cushion allows it. This differs from the starting position he found in Berlin.

But Schwolow now knows what it’s like to play against relegation in a chaotic environment. That can only help him for the coming season.

But it is also clear that the 30-year-old is now at a crossroads. The commitment in Gelsenkirchen can become a stepping stone for him. If he doesn’t find his old form here either, the options in the Bundesliga will also become rarer in the future.

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