Ahead of the 12th matchday, with Freiburg facing FC Schalke 04 the question remained for many what kind of shape Schalke would approach the game in. Sporting director Rouven Schröder had left, while Thomas Reis came in as then new head coach with the task facing the team a game against a Freiburg side fresh off qualifying for the last-16 of the Europa League.
The Freiburg coaching team didn’t want to speculate too much over potential tactical changes under Reis. Other things were most important, as SC head coach Christian Streich outlined after the game, “We spoke about mentality and attitude – and the team showed the right mentality and attitude from the start onwards.”
SC justified their role as favourites in the early stages and took immediate control of the game against the Bundesliga’s current bottom club. Ritsu Doan had two early shooting opportunities from promising positions (2’, 8’). Maya Yoshida cleared a cross from Lukas Kübler just before Michael Gregoritsch could get on the end of it (6’) and Maximilian Eggestein headed a cross from Christian Günter just wide of the goal of ex-Freiburg stopper Alexander Schwolow.
Eggestein was one of two changes to the starting eleven from the 1-1 draw with Olympiakos, starting alongside Nicolas Höfler in central midfield in the place of Yannik Keitel. The other new player in the eleven, Wooyeong Jeong, who started in place of Daniel-Kofi Kyereh as a second striker set alarm bells ringing in the 22nd as he shot from distance, just missing the top corner.
Ouwejan goes off injured, Grifo scores
SC captain Günter spoke of a “difficult game” against an opponent who it was hard to judge. The Royal Blues did not challenge for the ball all too successfully in the first half-an-hour, with Freiburg enjoying around 78% of possession in this period. The hosts were not helped by the fact that Thomas Ouwejan, who was a constant goal threat in 2. Bundesliga last season, had to go off injured in the 34th minute of the game. He was replaced by Kerim Calhanoglu, who had the best chance for Schalke in the first half when he missed by centimetres from just inside the box (35’).
The Bundesliga’s bottom side grew into the game as the half progressed, but it was SC who broke the deadlock. Vincenzo Grifo was given too much space on the left-hand side just outside the box, and was able to take a few steps inside and curl an effort into the far corner (45+1’). Alexander Schwolow had no chance, and Freiburg went into the break a goal to the good.
Jeong so close to making it 2-0
The second half began as the first had ended, with a curling effort from Vincenzo Grifo from the edge of the box. This time Schwolow was able to push the Italian’s shot wide, where it fell to Wooyeong Jeong with an open goal but he was unable to double the lead, instead hitting it wide (51’). Moments later, SC had a run of chances following a corner, but neither Matthias Ginter, nor Lukas Kübler nor Grifo once again were able to extend the lead (54’).
Michael Gregoritsch, who appeared for Schalke in the second half of the 2019/20 season, had a quite night in front of 61,000 supports at the Veltins Arena. Nevertheless, after 59 minutes it was him who found Wooyeong Jenog in the Schalke box, who beat Kerim Calhanoglu with a nice piece of skill. The Schalke left-back kicked the foot of the South Korean, and after referring to VAR, referee Christian Dingert awarded a penalty. As in the game eight days ago against Werder Bremen, Grifo took the penalty and convincingly converted to make it 2-0 (61’).
Away win never threatened in the final stages
As the game came to its conclusion, both sides had opportunities, but none of Lukas Kübler (74’), or Tom Krauß (77’) and Tobias Mohr (83’) were able to score from close range.
“All in all, it was a good performance from the team and also, I think, a deserved win,” said Christian Streich after the game, while his opposite number Thomas Reis did not disagree with his assessment.
The 2-0 away win was also well-earned because SC didn’t give Schalke space in attack and to create two good chances. This coming Thursday, the team play their final group game in the Europa League. The game against Qarabag has no stakes for Freiburg, who are already guaranteed to be group winners.
Photo: DeFodi Image