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Schalke in shape to mount European challenge

With FC Schalke 04 having done some shrewd business in the transfer market there are hopes within the club that the Royal Blues are well equipped for a successful season.

Ádám Szalai scored on his Bundesliga debut for Schalke
Ádám Szalai scored on his Bundesliga debut for Schalke ©Getty Images

As FC Schalke 04 prepare for another UEFA Champions League adventure, an air of optimism surrounds the club following a productive summer in the transfer market and the recruitment of a mastermind behind FC Bayern München's treble of 2012/13.

Going into the new Bundesliga campaign as one of only two teams considered to have a realistic shot of challenging Bayern and Borussia Dortmund – Bayer 04 Leverkusen are the other – Schalke have made some shrewd additions to their squad.

Perhaps previously too reliant on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the Royal Blues lured Ádám Szalai, one of the most sought-after forwards in the German top flight, from 1. FSV Mainz 05, and he marked his league debut with the final goal in the 3-3 home draw with Hamburger SV on 11 August. "Ádám has a strong mentality, is tenacious, ambitious and converts a good number of his chances," said general manager Horst Heldt.

A substitute eight days ago, Szalai will not just serve as cover for Huntelaar, who scored twice against HSV – it is possible he will partner the Dutch international in a 4-4-2 formation, a system Schalke will occasionally deploy to "be more flexible", according to coach Jens Keller.

"We want to utilise our strengths and we have rehearsed different systems in pre-season," said Keller, preparing to host PAOK FC in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League play-off first leg. "Which formation I choose is not dependent on our opponents; we are only focusing on ourselves."

Confident words from a coach who is seeking to inject some youth into his side without compromising the ambitions and expectations of the board and the fans. The Miners have brought in 18-year-old Leon Goretzka – a highly rated midfielder – while Keller would like to give Max Meyer, 17, more playing opportunities. Attacking midfielder Julian Draxler, 20 next month, has been a focal point of the team for some time.

However, some may argue the Gelsenkirchen outfit's biggest transfer coup is a 61-year-old. Peter Herrmann, who worked as Jupp Heynckes' assistant at Bayern and is credited with a key role in last term's treble success, was offered the job of coaching the Bavarians' reserve squad, but instead opted for a new challenge at Schalke with the remit of conducting training sessions and advising Keller on tactical matters.

"Pace is incredibly important in football today because a team needs to make quick transitions," Herrmann said after one of his first sessions, perhaps alluding to a variable that could be a feature of Schalke's play this campaign.

If you ask the supporters, winning the two seasonal derbies against Dortmund will always take priority, but after last spring when their rivals trumped Schalke's run to the 2011 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, the desire for a lengthy stay among the continent's elite has grown significantly.

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