Tactical Analysis: Galatasaray may threaten via an aerial assault but could be hit on the counter-attack

The Champions League is back & we're into the quarter-finals where it's all about tactics and progressing to the semi-finals. Here's a look at Real Madrid vs Galatasaray.

By Brendon Netto

The Champions League quarter-final fixture between Real Madrid and Galatasaray will feature a few reunions between Jose Mourinho and some of his former players but once the whistle blows, the pleasantries will be forgotten and a frantic battle on the pitch promises to ensue. Fatih Terim is a ‘special’ coach in his own right and it’s the eccentric personalities of both managers that adds to the intrigue of this particular encounter.

They say that a manager’s attitude is often adopted by his team and Galatasaray have been like a wild animal at times under Terim’s supervision. They are the kind of side that gets really wound up for the big occasions and enjoy punching above their weight like they did against Manchester United earlier in the tournament.

They take pride in their work ethic, their ability to intimidate even their technically superior opponents and enjoy getting on the front foot and attacking sides rather than being attacked. However, while their fight and exuberance are their most admirable qualities, it’s that adventurous approach which could well play into Madrid’s hands.

It’s been fairly obvious this season that Madrid have often struggled to break teams down but effortlessly slice them open when their opponents try to come out and play. When teams have sat deep against them, they have found it difficult to score and that’s primarily why they are so far behind Barcelona in the La Liga this season.

It’s no secret that Madrid are a fantastic counter-attacking team and arguably the best one around at the moment. They have plenty of pace in the side and an excellent distributor in Xabi Alonso to initiate those attacks with his pin-point long passes. The Los Blancos have proved to be lethal on the counter-attack time and again this season.

Madrid are deadly on the counter

Galatasaray’s full-backs will have to put in exceptional performances if the Turkish outfit are going to eliminate the Spanish giants. Albert Riera and Emmanuel Eboue are both attack-minded full-backs and if they fail to curb those attacking instincts, they could leave plenty of space in behind them for Madrid to exploit on the break. Eboue in particular will have his hands full with Cristiano Ronaldo playing down his side while Riera will have to contend with the dangerous Angel Di Maria.

With Alonso running the show in midfield, Ronaldo and Di Maria terrorizing defenders and Mesut Ozil orchestrating attacks in the final third, Madrid will have the luxury of creating openings time and again with Terim’s side decides to brazenly go on the offensive. However, despite Madrid’s evident superiority, Galatasaray will have a few tricks up their sleeves as well.

Sneijder to play provider

The January signings of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba have given Galatasaray a huge boost and an injection of quality in the final third. While Terim couldn’t be happier with the acquisitions of the two pseudo-galacticos, they have given him a selection headache. Burak Yilmaz has been in sensational form this season, scoring 26 goals in 31 appearances which include 8 goals in 8 Champions League games, making him the top scorer in this season’s elite competition along with Ronaldo.

To accommodate the attacking trio, Terim has deployed Sneijder on the left at times, like he did in the first leg 1-1 draw against FC Schalke, in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation with Drogba partnering Yilmaz up front. However, he’s likely to utilize a diamond midfield formation against Madrid like he did in the second leg 3-2 win over Schalke with Sneijder playing in the hole behind the two strikers which is where he’s most effective.

Real Madrid


The diamond midfield suits Galatasaray’s game plan but it also offers Madrid a few chances who will set-up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. This system demands that their full-backs get forward to provide width. Both full-backs are good at bombing forward and getting crosses in while they will have at least two prominent targets to aim at in the middle in Yilmaz and Drogba.

Madrid have not the been the best at dealing with aerial attacks this season and with two towering strikers to occupy either center back, this may be the best route to goal for Galatasaray. Eboue in particular should enjoy plenty of space when he does get forward with Ronaldo the least likely player to track back.

Tracking Ronaldo

However, this ploy of getting forward and delivering crosses could also be their undoing. With their full-backs pushed forward, they will be vulnerable to the counter-attack. Felipe Melo will play as the holding midfielder and look to put out fires in front of the defense while Hamit Altintop and Selcuk Inan will also track back. Altintop is a hard worker and he may be asked to keep an eye on Ronaldo to ensure that he doesn’t have a chance to square up against Eboue and doesn’t enjoy being unmarked when the full-back strides forward.

Madrid hold a relatively high-line in defense and that could help the Galatasaray strikers. One can drop deep while the other runs in behind while Sneijder attempts to pick out the runner with one of his sublime lofted passes over the top. Both strikers are also capable of flicking on passes or providing knock-downs for each other. If the two forwards manage to work in tandem, they could cause the Madrid defense (who rarely comes up against two strikers since it is quite rare in Spanish football) plenty of problems. 

The duo could trouble Madrid's defense

The Turkish club will also be able to threaten from set-pieces. Madrid do have plenty of height in their line-up but Galatasaray are equally blessed in that department. In fact, only Sneijder and Eboue fail to reach the six-foot benchmark in their first eleven. The Madridistas have conceded quite a few goals from set-pieces this season and with Sneijder’s delivery to contend with and the likes of Drogba and Yilmaz in the box; they might find themselves vulnerable in these dead-ball situations.

Ultimately, Madrid’s flair and technical ability should reign supreme against their feisty opponents but it only takes one goal against the run of play to rattle even the best teams and tip the scales in favour of the perceived minnows. Galatasaray have some strong characters within their ranks, not the least of whom will be prowling the touchline. Nevertheless, as far as characters go, few match up to Mourinho and the Portuguese tactician will in all probability ensure his side’s safe passage to the semi-finals as their quest for that coveted tenth European title approaches its conclusion.

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