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  • By Alessandro Schiavone at Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirschen

Ex-West Ham star Kral is winning hearts and minds at Schalke 04 while Moyes is licking his wounds

By Alessandro Schiavone at Veltins-Arena

Schalke 04 1-0 1.FSV Mainz 05, Bundesliga

Former West Ham player Alex Kral flourished as Schalke 04 sprang a surprise by beating 1. FSV Mainz 05 1-0 in the Bundesliga.

Rooted to the bottom of the table, the fallen giants returned to Germany’s top-flight after a one-year absence following their shock relegation in 2021. But despite their precarious league standings, tonight they finally registered their second win of the campaign to keep their hopes of steering clear of consecutive Bundesliga relegations well and truly alive.

And without a shadow of a doubt, former Hammers midfielder Kral was central to his side’s fortunes.

The slate has been wiped clean in Germany for the Czech Republic international after barely getting a look-in under David Moyes in the 2021/2022 campaign. A season which saw the West Ham go all the way to the Europa League semi-final and finish on a respectable seventh position in the Premier League. All this without Kral, outfrozen at London Stadium, but now a sort of a hero Auf Schalke. A crisis club that once challenged for the Bundesliga crown with the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and accustomed to playing Champions League football with superstars such as Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler, who all came through the ranks at the club before going on to bigger and better things. But let’s put their demise to one side for now and focus on Kral.

Deemed not up to it right from the start, despite being sponsored by none others than Tomáš Souček and Vladimir Soucek, who hail from the same country, 24-year-old Kral was limited to a deflating six appearances across all competitions. Shockingly he only played one minute of Premier Legue football, coinciding with their 4-1 away win over Watford at Vicarage Road. Too little for such a young and talented footballer.

Not least on the basis of how well he played tonight in the Bundesliga, that seems utterly ridiculous. He was noticeably one of his side’s key performers in their win over Mainz.

On the field for his 13rd Bundesliga game of the season, having already more than doubled his meagre tally of six games in all competitions for the Hammers, he set up skipper Simon Terrode with a well-weighted pass in behind.

Minutes earlier he had earned a free-kick for Schake 04 in a dangerous area, which Florent Mollet nearly converted, only for his travelling effort to flash inches wide.

And the Czech Republic international nearly rounded off a perfect opening 45 minutes with a goal of his own. Slipped through on goal by one of his teammates, the former West Ham misfit poked his effort wide after losing his balance in front of goal. But such was his influence on the team that he was everywhere. And when he was needed at the back, he came to his side’s rescue too.

Symbolic for his hard work was the manner with which he broke up a Mainz attack on the 40 minutes on the edge of his team’s box. Having committed many men forward, Kral ran back to clear the danger and salvage a 1-0 first-half lead which Schalke would see out to take all three points home.

In half-two, he showed no signs of slowing down, as he kept going in energetic fashion, winning important headers and battles in key areas of the pitch. The West Ham rejection must still rankle him and he’s using that failure as a fuel to make his mark in German football. Tonight, as Schalke 04 ground out a 1-0 win, his attitude, application and tactical cleverness stood out. On top of it, he showcased his (to the wider pubic) unknown box-to-box qualities that West Ham fans didn't have the chance to admire. And when he headed an inswinging free-kick away with a few minutes left, it was easy to pick Capital Football’s man of the match. Sure, Moyes had a choice to make and he was never going to drop Rice or Soucek to make way for Kral in central midfield. But a sense of injustice must still pervade in the midfielder’s mind. Was he really only worth one minute of Premier League football? The Schalke fans adore him, the local journalists speak highly of him. There was a time, as game came thick and fast in the latter stages of the season, when Kral’s fresh legs would have been useful to West Ham after all. But Moyes clearly didn't trust him.

Schalke 04

13 Alexander Schwolow- 4 Maya Yoshida- 6 Tom Krauss- 9 Simon Terodde- 11 Marius Butler- 19 Kenan Karaman-20 Florent Mollelt- 27 Brunner- 29 Tobias Mohr- 30 Alex Kral

1 FSV Mainz 05

27 Robin Zentner- 3 Aaron- 6 Anton Stach- 7 Jae Sung Lee- 8 Karim Onislwo- 19 Anthony Caci-20 Edimilson Fernandes Ribeiro- 21 Danny Vieira- 31 Dominik Kohr- 42 Alexander Hack


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