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          American teenager’s hat-trick halts 30 game winless run

          Schalke’s new Hoppe ends year from hell

          2021/01/09 18:53
          Connor Andrews
          E0

          Matthew Hoppe’s first senior goals ended Schalke’s 30-game winless run, one short of matching the Bundesliga all-time record, with a stunning hat-trick in a 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim terminating a year from hell for the German side.

          After spending the first half of last season in and around the top four places, Schalke looked set to carry on as one of the league’s best sides following a Leon Goretzka-inspired second-place finish the previous campaign, but after a 2-0 win over Champions League rivals Borussia Monchengladbach 360 days ago, something inexplicable happened.

          Schalke dropped from the top four to the bottom four, narrowly missing out on the relegation zone thanks to their earlier form, and their squad began to unravel due to a string of ligament injuries to key players, as well as star goalkeeper Alexander Nübel electing to join Bayern Munich on a free transfer despite knowing he’d never get past Manuel Neuer.

          © Lars Baron / Getty Images
          As things on the pitch deteriorated, things off it got just as bad, a club run by supporters, the pandemic hit harder than many, with their misery soon compounded as their main benefactor, Clemens Tönnies, left the club in unceremoniously.

          Suspended for alleged racist comments in pre-season, Tönnies, who owns the biggest meat processing firm in Germany, later stepped down from his position following a huge outbreak of Covid cases amongst a poorly treated immigrant workforce. 

          Leaving Schalke without a way out of their multi-million-pound debt, unable to fill a stadium that usually has the fourth-highest footfall in Europe, the future of the club us unclear, but for Tönnies, "that door is closed," one season ticket holder said. 

          Former Huddersfield boss David Wagner was given a second chance to replicate his impressive first half of 2019/20 form to begin this season with a not-so-fresh start, mainly because the club couldn’t afford to sack him, and duly got things kicked off with a humiliating opening day 8-0 loss against Bayern Munich.

          Wagner eventually left a game later, with former Augsburg and German youth set-up coach Manuel Baum seen as a solution due to his tactically advanced reputation. 10 games later, he followed Wagner out the door.

          One of the club's greatest ever managers, Huub Stevens, returned on an interim basis and was given a tie with newly-promoted Arminia Bielefeld as the last chance to save the season, despite it only being 13 games young, and a 1-0 loss looked like the end before the arrival of their fourth coach in as many months.

          Schalke’s final punt was one of the most bizarre yet, going back to the 90s with former Tottenham, Basel and Stuttgart manager Christian Gross arriving at the age of 66 after six years in the Middle East, raising eyebrows everywhere.

          "It’s a huge challenge and that’s why I accepted it. In this job, there will always be negatives. You conquer them with courage,” said Gross of his unexpected arrival.

          ©Getty /
          However, Schalke followed up the defeat against Arminia with a lifeless 3-0 loss to Hertha Berlin, and began looking set to take their crippling €240 million debt down to the second division, possibly never to return.

          Out of ideas and on 30 games without a win, one short of Tasmania Berlin’s 1966 record, on Saturday Schalke persisted with a new idea that hadn’t so far worked against Hoffenheim, and something extraordinary happened.

          Four minutes before half-time, Schalke’s highly-rated Amine Harit played 19-year-old American Matthew Hoppe into a poor angle in the opposition box, and a counter-attack looked wasted on the teenager who’s yet to score a professional goal. 

          However, everyone in Gelsenkirchen was left in sheer shock, as a team that’s been struggling to score the easiest of chances got to witness a gorgeous dink from Hoppe putting the Royal Blues ahead.

          And 10 minutes into the second half, desperately hoping to for once hold onto a lead, Harit found Hoppe again, with the youngster beating the offside trap, before embarrassing Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, sitting him down and slotting home for a 2-0 lead.

          It looked like Schalke might finally edge a win after a first half where they were outplayed, but they weren’t quite finished scoring, soon after their second Harit had the ball in an attacking area once more, and again spotted Hoppe, giving the ball to the American for yet another dink that peak Raúl or Klass Jan Huntelaar would have been proud of.

          Schalke had witnessed their first hat-trick since Franco Di Santo six years ago, and Harit, after a hat-trick of assists, decided to put the gloss on their first win in a year, scoring to cap off a 4-0 win and an extraordinary afternoon in Gelsenkirchen.

          The monkey was off Schalke’s back whatever happened heading into Saturday's game, they either equaled the record or didn’t, either way, the pressure was over, but in doing the latter they’ve given themselves a platform for success, already leapfrogging Mainz to move off the foot of the table.

          Making his return and second debut, this time as captain, former Arsenal left back, Sead Kolašinac, who clearly made an impact both in the dressing room and on the pitch, proudly stated, "I said to the lads before the game that we need to get the basics right – our tackling, our pressing, our simple passes. All of our white shorts are dirty after the game and that’s what you need to see."

          Schalke’s next fixtures don’t inspire much confidence as they include Eintracht Frankfurt away and Bayern at home, but the story of their season is no longer about the winless run, and although it will be an uphill climb, they’ve finally put their feet on a first step that many thought no longer existed, and should they keep climbing, Kolašinac impact on the dry cleaning bill will likely increase.     

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