By Enis Koylu
In what was generally a dull January transfer window, Galatasaray and Schalke dominated the headlines. The Gelsenkirchen outfit sold one of their prize assets, Lewis Holtby, for a paltry €1.75 million and failed to find a replacement of his ilk. Meanwhile, their Istanbul counterparts brought in two players of world renown, Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder.
The two signings, it was said, would swing the balance of their upcoming Champions League tie in Fatih Terim's side's favour, particularly given S04's abominable form, which has seen them claim one win in 2013, and keep one clean sheet since the start of November.
And, sure enough, when the two sides stepped out onto the Turk Telekom Arena pitch for the first leg of the encounter on Wednesday, it was the hosts who took an early lead, with Burak Yilmaz scoring a fantastic goal after some lovely work from Selcuk Inan.
|MATCH FACTS | Galatasaray 1-1 Schalke
Truth be told, Galatasaray had chances to further their lead. Burak had a couple of efforts well saved by Timo Hildebrand, Drogba had one, and Hamit Altintop saw a seemingly goal-bound effort rattle off the crossbar.
But all the while, Schalke were building. Fingers can be pointed at the Germans for missing chances as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar wasted a fantastic counter-attacking opportunity, Jefferson Farfan blazed over from close range and Benedikt Howedes sent a header narrowly wide.
But, on the stroke of half-time, they got their just reward. Their hustle in midfield forced Galatasaray to surrender the ball, Farfan sprinted upfield and squared the ball to Jermaine Jones, 'Mr 101 per cent', to level the scores. And it was no less than they deserved for their effort and industry.
For a team with their horrendous form in recent months, it would have been easy for Jens Keller's side to let their heads down. Amid the doubts over the coach's credentials, the state of their injury-hit defence, coupled with the raucous Istanbul crowd, accepting a seemingly-inevitable defeat would have been understandable.
Sneijder did not appear after half-time. The Dutchman did little to justify a place on the pitch. Galatasaray played a narrow midfield with the former Inter man behind Drogba and Burak, but the move had spectacularly backfired, Schalke's tireless pair of Jones and Roman Neustadter overran them, starting wave after wave of counter-attacks.
Drogba lasted longer, the full 90 minutes in fact, but that is not to say he fared much better. He tested Hildebrand on a couple of sparse occasions and combined fairly well with Burak, but his first touch was visibly poor and as the match wore on, he sank into anonymity.
Schalke's team of grafters earned what they set out to get, Galatasaray's stars failed to do their job. It is then ironic, perhaps, that Schalke were tentatively linked with Sneijder to replace Holtby a month ago.
The truth is that Galatasaray's best players were Burak and Selcuk Inan, two players who grew up in Turkey, and know the meaning of a Champions League last-16 tie to the Super Lig champions. You can buy big-name players, but to get them to play in a spirited manner, fighting for the team's cause is an altogether different proposition.
And while that remains the case, Sneijder and Drogba will still have to prove the doubters wrong, and that they are here in Turkey for the right reasons.
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