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Ralf Fahrmann’s remarkable revival has come at the right time to save FC Schalke

DFB-Pokal 2018/19, 1. Hauptrunde: 1. FC Schweinfurt 05 gegen FC Schalke 04 0:2 (0:1)

A lot can change in football in a month. At the end of January, FC Schalke were hit for six by RB Leipzig and slumped to a 6-1 humbling at the Veltins-Arena.

They sat rock bottom with just nine points to their name, while their dismal record of 41 goals conceded was the worst in the Bundesliga. Relegation appeared to be a foregone conclusion but recent results suggest a remarkable revival could be on the cards.

Schalke had registered just two clean sheets during the Hinrunde but their form since the start of the Rückrunde has told a very different story. The Royal Blues registered four straight top-flight shutouts for the first time in five years, and also became the first team in Bundesliga history to serve up four goalless stalemates on the bounce.

The bore draws may have not lifted them off the foot of the table, but it has instilled confidence in the defence, and stability across the camp. The point against Bundesliga high flyers Union Berlin in particular proved to be an important confidence booster.

One of the biggest factors behind their newfound defensive solidity is the recently reinstated Ralf Fahrmann. The former Germany under-21 international was the heir to Manuel Neuer’s throne when he departed Gelsenkirchen for Bayern Munich in the summer of 2011.

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Fahrmann had previously been a product of the Schalke academy, but left after failing to oust Neuer between the sticks. A free transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt provided him with a platform to showcase his quality, although it wasn’t until his homecoming to the Veltins-Arena that his career really took off.

He made the best possible start to his second spell by saving two penalties in Schalke’s 4-3 shoot-out victory over Revierderby rivals Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Supercup.

Ex-Germany international and one-time Bundesliga winner Timo Hildebrand provided stern competition during his first two seasons, but Fahrmann subsequently replaced him on first-choice duty in 2013.

The 34-year-old would remain the number one goalkeeper at Schalke for the next five seasons – totting up 239 appearances and 65 clean sheets in the process. Fahrmann had amassed a career-high 13 league shutouts to help inspire Schalke to a runners-up finish in 2017/18, but a young and exciting star was waiting in the wings to snatch his previously unassailable place.

Alexander Nubel had been on Schalke’s books since 2015 and had ambitions of his own to follow in the footsteps of Neuer and Fahrmann.

Fahrmann had endured his first serious blip at the Veltins-Arena during Domenico Tedesco’s second season at the helm. The Italian had masterminded Schalke’s mini-title assault on Bayern the previous campaign, but his inability to consolidate his initial success proved fatal.

Schalke lost their first five games of the Bundesliga season in 2018/19, and Fahrmann shipped 26 goals in 17 games throughout the campaign. Tedesco dropped Fahrmann as a result and provided Nubel with a prime opportunity which he seized with both hands.

Huub Stevens succeeded Tedesco in the dugout to inspire the Royal Blues to safety, but Fahrmann was not restored to the starting XI by the Dutch veteran. He remained behind Nubel in the pecking order under David Wagner the following season, and chose to join Premier League outfit Norwich City on a season-long loan, which provided little sign of a revival.

He starred just three times for the Canaries and remained firmly rooted behind first-choice stopper Tim Krul. Fahrmann left Carrow Road before his loan deal expired, and spent the remainder of the campaign at Brann in Norway.

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His brief stay at Brann ended with zero minutes to his name, but Wagner announced that Fahrmann would be the preferred option once again following Nubel’s departure to Bayern.

Schalke would endure their worst season in Bundesliga history, which started with an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Bayern at the Allianz Arena. That humiliation set the tone for the rest of the campaign, with Schalke going a club record 17 league games without a win.

The Royal Blues finished rock bottom with just 16 points and succumbed to their first relegation in 30 years. The Veltins-Arena crowd saw no fewer than five different managers during a disastrous campaign, and the latter of Schalke’s quintet of managerial casualties, Dimitrios Grammozis, decided to sign Martin Fraisl from ADO Den Haag.

The Austrian was undisputed number one as Schalke secured an immediate return to the top-flight via the 2. Bundesliga title under Grammozis, and later Mike Büskens.

Büskens helped resurrect their promotion push with eight wins from their last nine games, just one of which Fahrmann starred in. His lack of minutes proved even more bizarre considering he’d penned a four-year deal in the summer of 2021.

Fahrmann watched from the sidelines as summer recruit Alexander Schwolow leaked 46 goals and kept only three clean sheets across 19 games in all competitions. The 6-1 defeat at the hands of RB Leipzig acted as a turning point with Thomas Reis’ shrewd decision to recall Fahrmann helping Schalke reawaken from the dead.

His four clean sheets against FC Koln, Borussia Monchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Union Berlin respectively preceded the Royal Blues’ first league win since before the World Cup break.

Dominick Drexler added the finishing touches to a blistering counter-attacking move when he ghosted in the back post to head home Michael Frey’s perfectly placed cross inside 10 minutes.

Marius Bulter then applied the deftest of flicks to Drexler’s low cross to send the Royal Blues into half-time with a 2-0 lead. Schalke somewhat ceded the initiative when Fahrmann fumbled a long-range strike from Stuttgart left-back Borna Sosa but the veteran proved his worth at the death.

He stooped low to his left to palm away Wataru Endo’s goal-bound header and helped Schalke hold on to record a vital three points. The hosts moved to within three points of safety courtesy of their victory, and are battling to reverse their inferior goal difference as the battle for survival intensifies.

The arrival of 23-year-old defender Moritz Jenz from Celtic has helped ease Fahrmann’s return to the fold. Jenz has formed a telepathic partnership in recent weeks with the experienced Japan international Maya Yoshida. The pair have conceded just once in the five games which they’ve started alongside each other.

Fahrmann’s experience could play a telling role in the Bundesliga basement battle, and with direct rivals VfL Bochum up next, another solid performance is a must.


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