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The Champions League is back & we're into the knockout stages which invariably produces intriguing tactical battles. We now analyze Schalke's visit to Galatasaray..

SPECIAL
By Brendon Netto

The first leg between Galatasaray and FC Schalke may not be the most glamourous fixtures of the Round of 16 in the Champions League but it certainly won't be dull. The transfers of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba to Galatasaray will add some attraction to the encounter but the pace with which the two teams attack promises to make this an entertaining clash.


FORMATIONS AND TACTICS

How Galatasaray Attack
4-4-1-1
How Schalke Defend
4-2-3-1
The Turkish giants have plenty of options in attack. Sneijder will be their playmaker and will orchestrate proceedings in the final third. He can link-up with Drogba or spread the play wide to the wingers or full-backs. Most of the attacks will go through the Dutchman. The wingers and full-backs will get forward and send crosses into the box where Drogba will no doubt be the prime target. The big Ivorian will also hold-up the ball at times when played into his feet and will look to bring other into play.

Sneijder will offer the striker support and could take advantage of any knock-downs he's able to provide. Inan has featured in an attacking midfield role for Galatasaray and is more than capable of getting forward. He will be heavily involved in their build-up play and will make forward runs in support of the attack. They should enjoy plenty of width with their wingers and full-backs all refraining from cutting infield as they are more comfortable with getting to the by-line and delivering crosses.
Schalke have conceded 25 goals from their last 11 games during their ongoing slump. Kyriakos Papadopoulos has been a big miss in defense for them. Uchida will also be missed through injury and Marco Hoger looks set to take his place.

They employ two holding midfielders in Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustadter who sit close in front of the back four and check runs into that area. They will look to deny Sneijder space to operate in as far as possible. Draxler will drop back into central midfielding when defending while the wingers will also look to track back to support their full-backs. Benedikt Howedes and Joel Matip are normally adept at handling aerial attacks and don't concede too many goals from set-pieces.

How Galatasaray Defend
4-4-1-1
How Schalke Attack
4-2-3-1
Galatasaray will employ two holding midfielders in Felipe Melo and Selcuk Inan. Melo in particular is the ball-winner in midfield and he won't hesitate to launch himself into a few crunching tackles. Inan can sit deep but has a more technical side to him and should be in charge of the distribution from central midfield but will track back and sit alongside Melo when defending.

Both their full-backs, Emmanuel Eboue and Albert Riera, are quite attacking and can be caught up the pitch when they lose possession. However, one of the holding midfielders will get across to cover for the exposed full-back and avert the danger. Hamit Altintop and Emre Colak operate down the flanks. They are both disciplined and do get back when defending to offer support to their respective full-backs. Wesley Sneijder won't drop to deep but instead he will position himself for the counter-attack and look to release Didier Drogba when they break. The visitors don't allow their opponents much time on the ball and will look to close them down as soon as they cross the half-line.
Schalke are more than capable of playing some really attacking football on their day. Their 4-2-3-1 formation allows their front four the freedom to attack without being too concerned with their defensive responsibilities. Jefferson Farfan is a real threat on their right hand side and may enjoy going up against Albert Riera who isn't a natural left back especially after the way he tormented Arsenal's Andre Santos at the Emirates Stadium during the group stages. His pace enables him to beat his man and get to the by-line on a regular basis but more importantly, he usually delivers quality at the end of it. Similarly, new arrival Michel Bastos, who is enjoying a flying start with Schalke with three goals and an assist in his first four games, will look to maintain his good form down the left flank. With the pace Schalke possess on the flanks, they can be dangerous on the counter-attack.

The departure of Lewis Holtby to Tottenham has been a massive blow for the Bundesliga outfit from an attacking perspective but fortunately for them, Julian draxler appears to be up to the task of filling in as playmaker. Draxler's dribbling and close control makes him dangerous in the final third while he also poses a significant goal threat. They will also be missing injured Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay through injury. Huntelaar hasn't hit the heights of his last season when he scored an incredible 48 goals in 48 appearances for the club but the fact remains that he is a class striker and arguably one of the best goal poachers around. Schalke will push their full-backs forward but regular right back, Astuto Uchida will be missing through injury. They play with two holding midfielders who won't be too keen to break forward apart from the occasional run.

 

ANALYSIS

Strengths –


Galatasaray: The Turkish side have a sort of fearless attitude about them and that is definitely one of their strengths. They displayed that in the group stages against Manchester United and are notorious for consistently 'going for the kill'. Their opponents like to keep possession but they will have to work hard to do that because the Turks close teams down very well. Their work ethic is admirable. With the arrivals of Sneijder and Drogba, Galatasaray now have a lot more going forward. Their strike-force was efficient to begin with but the Ivory Coast international has definitely taken it to another level while Sneijder is the only player in their squad or even most squads who sees certain penetrating passes that Drogba can avail of.

Schalke: The German side have plenty of pace down their flanks courtesy of Farfan and Bastos and that's where they look most threatening. They've lost a bit of that guile in behind the striker with the departure of  Lewis Holtby but Bastos' arrival has given them another route to goal from a wide area. Despite his lack of form this season, having a striker of Huntelaar's pedigree has to be counted as a positive from Schalke. If he does click, his clinical nature can be enough to win games for the Germans.

Weaknesses –

Galatasaray: They are a hard working side but they do lack technical ability in a few areas. In contrast to Schalke's wingers, Altintop and Colak are not the quickest around. Their defense is not the strongest and you always have a chance against them. Their full-backs in particular are not the best defensively and can be beaten.

Schalke: They are in the midst of a dramatic collapse in the Bundesliga at the moment. They have gone from 2nd in the table to 10th in the span of 12 games during which they 7 and drew 3 although their latest draw against Mainz saw them climb to 8th. They have struggled to hold on to leads and have looked disorganized in defense. Their strike-force does heavily rely on Huntelaar and with the Dutchman either out of form or injured this season, goals have been hard to come by.

Galatasaray Key Player: Sneijder
Schalke Key Player: Huntelaar
Drogba may have a big influence on this game but despite his impressive debut for the Turkish outfit, his lack of match fitness may restrict him from playing the entire 90 minutes. Sneijder on the other hand has had a couple of more games to settle in and is already proving to add some zip and panache to the attack. His vision and slick passing has added a new dimension to their play and how one of the bigger clubs in Europe didn't snap him up remains a mystery.


During the brief period he spent on the pitch with Drogba on Friday, the two combined well. Sneijder was involved in the build-up to Drogba's goal and the two then combined to set up the second. The prospect of Champions League football certainly helped lure the Dutchman to Turkey and he will be keen to excel. Along with Drogba, he will know that they have a great opportunity to secure a quarter-final berth and that should be more than enough motive to rise to the occasion.
Huntelaar has scored just 11 goals so far this season which but 4 of those goals have come in the 6 Champions League games he's featured in during the group stages. Despite failing to live up to his performances last season, you would expect him to benefit from Bastos' arrival. He is a natural goal-scorer and that doesn't just go away.

He will get chances and if he rediscovers his clinical touch, he might be able to earn Schalke a place in the quarter-finals. He should be able to feed off the deliveries from Farfan and Bastos while getting the better of the two center-backs.

Who do you think will win this tie? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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