The Philadelphia Union take on FC Schalke 04 in an international friendly tonight at 7:30 p.m. The two sides will take to the field at PPL Park in a game that will supposedly be the last for Raul, a legend with Real Madrid and former Spanish international, with the German club.
The Brotherly Game talked to Phillip Quinn, SB Nation's Bundesliga expert, about Schalke ahead of the game.
The Brotherly Game: For those without much knowledge (or none at all) about the Bundesliga and Schalke, what can you say about tomorrow's opponent for the Philadelphia Union?
Phillip Quinn: Schalke are coming off of the 2011-2012 Bundesliga season where they finished third in the table behind Borussia Dortmund (champions) and Bayern Munich. Since the winter break they never dropped below the fourth position in the league. Yeah, it's true that Schalke haven't won the German title in 54 years. Their recent record is very good. Since the '91-'92 season, Schalke have only finished outside of the top 10 five times. Scoring goals weren't a problem for them this season, but letting them in sure was. Led by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's 29 goals, Schalke scored 77 and let in 44. They suffered from several injuries to the goalkeeper position and were forced to shuffle defenders in and out of the lineup due to injuries. The fans should expect some goals in this game.
tBG: Who are the names, other than Raul, Huntelaar and Farfan, that people should know?
PQ: One of my favorite players to keep an eye on is 18 year old midfielder Julian Draxler. When he made his debut last January, he became the fourth youngest Bundesliga player ever. Draxler was awarded the start in the DFB Pokal Final and rewarded his manager's faith by scoring the opening goal in a 5-0 Schalke route. He's become more consistent this season and has been recently named by Jogi Löw to Germany's conditional squad before Euro 2012.
Another young midfielder to keep an eye on is Lewis Holtby. He managed six goals this year and is poised for a more important role for Schalke next season. Holtby spent the entire 2010-2011 season on loan at Mainz and was in fantastic form. His play out of the midfield was one of the reasons Mainz finished in 5th last season. Holtby is only 21, and I think he's only going to get better.
tBG: Tactically, what can be expected out of Schalke with a mostly full lineup?
PQ: We'll likely see Schalke line up in a 4-4-2 with Huntelaar and Raul paired up top. It will really depend on what kind of midfield manager Huub Stevens will want to play. I expect we'll see Jermaine Jones partnered with either Holtby or Joel Matip in the center of midfield. A wide midfield would likely feature Jefferson Farfan opposite Jose Jurado. Both are quick, tricky wingers and would cause problems for Philly's fullbacks. A slightly more narrow midfield could see Draxler and Alexander Baumjohann. It will greatly depend on which players are available for selection.
tBG: What are your expectations for Schalke against the Union, whose only losses against foreign clubs have come against Manchester United and Real Madrid.
PQ: In these type of friendlies, it always depends on exactly how motivated the European team is, right? This one is extremely strange to me, because I don't fully understand Schalke's need for a end-of-season friendly. I think it's going to be very difficult for the Union to stop Huntelaar and Raul if they're up for the game. While Schalke's defense isn't world class, we've been witness for two months now of Philadelphia's inept offense, and I can't see many chances being generated from the Union attack. I think we'll need to take this game for exactly what it is: a team struggling to establish themselves in MLS so far this year against a team coming off of a long, grueling season.