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Domenico Tedesco's bravery
It began with a 31-year-old rookie boss, with just months of head coaching experience, no European football to look forward to, and a public needing to be won over. On Sunday afternoon, it reached an apparent denouement, gloriously, with sweet victory over their fierce local rivals
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Borussia Dortmund, with Champions League football within touching distance and with that coach, Domenico Tedesco, wildly celebrating with the
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fans as Schalke enjoyed their best day in recent memory.
Fittingly, as the jubilant players approached the hardcore on the Nordkurve, Tedesco – now a seasoned 32 – took centre stage clasped to his defensive rock, the Brazilian Naldo, three years his coach’s senior. This moment highlighted much of the respect that Tedesco has garnered from players who were weary, possibly sceptical and whose expectations had been lowered after a poor season under his predecessor, Markus Weinzierl, which had left Die
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Königsblauen as close to the relegation play-off as they were to Europe.
Speaking to The Independent’s Archie Rhind-Tutt last month, Naldo called Tedesco “the best coach I ever had” in a decade and a half of senior football, which is some claim. Tedesco’s preparation and eye for detail has got the best out of a good but not outstanding squad, with the veteran Brazilian a good example of that.
The towering centre-back has played every minute of Schalke’s Bundesliga campaign in a defence that has conceded fewer goals than any team but Bayern Munich.
With two younger, nippier defenders either side of him in Tedesco’s three-man backline – in Sunday’s case, Benjamin Stambouli and 21-year-old Thilo Kehrer - Naldo’s slowing pace hasn’t been much of an issue. His power has come to the fore, and he has also chipped in with seven goals – he followed up his memorable headed leveller as Schalke came from 4-0 down to draw at Dortmund in November with a trademark rocket of a shot from a free-kick to seal Sunday’s win.
The highlight reel will give the fans a great deal of pleasure post-season, but it’s everything in between that makes Tedesco’s work so impressive. To say Schalke’s supporters have overbearing expectations from past, pre-Bundesliga glories would be unfair, but this is a demanding club with significant pressures. They expect brave, attacking football. Tedesco’s style has been courageous in another way – bucking tradition, prizing
defensive organisation and containment.
The coach knew he was taking a risk, with the unloved Roberto Di Matteo’s defensive tactics not tolerated when results began to turn. While Tedesco’s side may be more graft than craft, however, they
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have shown that defending well and being ambitious are not mutually exclusive. They are totally committed, and that has come across well to the faithful.
The opening day win over RB Leipzig set the tone for gritty, possession-light football punctuated by
swift counters, normally emanating from wide. That was again the template here, with Daniel Caligiuri prominent at wing-back, creating the opener for Yevhen Konoplyanka and teeing up Naldo’s piledriver amid a lung-busting performance that stretched Dortmund’s defence at one end and helped keep their mastery of the ball strictly sterile at the other. Caligiuri, who was drifting at Wolfsburg, and Konoplyanka are two more players out of whom Tedesco has coaxed much more their previous coaches.
On the other bench, Peter Stöger had known what to expect – he acknowledged pre-match that Nuri Sahin would keep his place because BVB would have a lot of the ball, and they ended up with 59% of possession – but his players could do little about it. “We totally screwed it up,” lamented Marco Reus, a rare attacking threat for the visitors. “We let them play.”
Before the match, Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, trailed the possibility that Stöger might still stay, highlighting a run of just one defeat in 12 Bundesliga games that set Dortmund back on course for Champions League qualification. Gratitude can only stretch so far, though.
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