Schalke as a whole was very poor in Sunday’s lopsided loss to FC Augsburg, and Weston McKennie was no exception.
McKennie endured a rough day at the office in Schalke’s 3-0 home defeat to Augsburg, and that was not just because it was his errant pass in the opening minutes that led to Eduard Lowen’s free kick winner. McKennie had a handful of unnecessary and sloppy turnovers during his 74 minutes on the field, his erratic passing from deep positions leading to a number of threatening Augsburg counterattacks.
The young American did have some bright moments — including on a long ball upfield in the first half that gave Schalke one of its best scoring chances of the day — but most of them came on the defensive side of the ball when he showed off his trademark energy, speed, and range to help break things up.
Overall, though, McKennie, like Schalke, never really got going on Sunday as their winless run extended to nine games. He started the match as one of the team’s two central midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but was asked to drop deep in between the centerbacks almost immediately after his gaffe in the fifth minute under little pressure proved costly.
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The tactical adjustment from Schalke manager David Wagner may have been done with the idea of trying to avoid a repeat of those type of turnovers, but McKennie had a few more giveaways in the defensive third and never truly looked comfortable playing so deep when his team was in possession.
The U.S. Men’s National Team regular did do a solid job of moving the ball mostly side to side between central defenders Salif Sane and Matija Nastasic, resulting in a personal pass completion percentage of 90.6 for McKennie. That stat might look good on paper, but the majority of his completed passes were not forward ones and came under little duress against an Augsburg side that sat in the mid-block and refused to high press in order to stay compact so as to hit on the counter.
What’s more, McKennie — who has said multiple times recently that he feels most comfortable playing as an 8 that can roam more so than a 6 — seemed a bit tactically unsure as to which spaces to fill in certain moments. One play midway through the second half showed his unfamiliarity with the role he was in, as he positioned himself in the midfield before realizing to drop further back to provide a more open outlet.
Even then, he was on the whole a bit timid, perhaps as a result of that early mistake, in asking or showing for the ball in a number situations. When he found himself in possession, McKennie failed to break lines with that clean first pass forward that teams need in order to build up attacks.
That might not be a weapon in his arsenal and something Wagner needs to better consider going forward, but it was part of the reason Schalke could not string together many attacking sequences and why the team had to play to wide options when trying to build out so often.
One of McKennie’s last contributions before being subbed off was a flubbed back pass that he hustled to stop by committing a foul. Tellingly, McKennie smacked the ground in frustration after the whistle was blown, a clear sign that he knew he should have done better. Not only on that play but in the game.
The good news for McKennie and Schalke is that they will not have to wait long to try and erase Sunday’s lackluster performance from their minds. They have another showdown on against relegation-threatened Fortuna Dusseldorf on the cards for Wednesday, and that might serve as the perfect opportunity to bounce back.
Not just with a much-needed win, but with a better showing as well.