It’s going to take more than two of the world’s biggest soccer stars to make Galatasaray a true threat in Champions League, with a Schalke 04 side that’s fallen flat in Germany showing the additions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder may not be enough to get the Turkish champions out of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. Having opened with a 1-1 in their tie with Schalke, Gala faces the daunting task of winning or turning around the away goal in Gelsenkirchen to make their big January signings pay off.
Sneijder, a 2010 Champions League winner, moved to Istanbul from Inter Milan in the January window. Drogba, who won this competition last year with Chelsea, soon followed, ending his short stint with Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua.
Combined with the relatively fortunate draw of Schalke in the knockout round, the signings had many speculating how fair the Super Lïg leaders could go in Europe. After a day where the duo were relatively quiet, Schalke (who sit ninth in the German Bundesliga) are a step closer to their second quarterfinal appearance in three years.
The match started as Gala would have liked, with quick transition from their defensive third offsetting Schalke’s control. Those transitions payed off in the 12th minute when Schalke defender Benedikt Höwedes failed to clear a speculative pass from midfielder Selcuk Inan. The ball came down to Burak Yilmaz, the competition’s leading scorer, who finished high into the left of net from 16 yards, giving Gala the early lead.
When Hamit Altintop rattled the post minutes later, Galatasaray seemed prime to build on their lead. Yilmaz would later push a shot wide after being put through on goal, another sign the Turks were likely to win the day.
But a misplay by central defender Dany Nounkeu on a ball launched out of Schalke’s third led to the visitors’ only goal. The Cameroonian’s failure to control the ball allowed Jermaine Jones to spring Jefferson Farfan on a counterattack. When the Farfan drew the defense before playing a ball back across the box for Jones, Schalke had their road goal.
It was another example of the often perverse importance of road goals. Given the de facto lead, Schalke used their huge possession advantage (57 percent) to control the second half. Galatasaray were still the more dangerous side, their direct play stressing Schalke’s shakey central defense, but they were never able to craft that vital go-ahead goal. Schalke, given the lead via the road goals tiebreaker, could be content waiting for the final whistle.
As a result, the team of Drogba and Sneijder inched closer to a Champions League exit, in the process answering the questions that underscored their stars’ January acquisitions. It’s going to take more than two big names to make Galatasaray a threat in Champions League.
Man of the Match: This is what Jurgen Klinsmann sees in Jermaine Jones. The U.S. international was a beast in midfield for Schalke, providing the needed muscle at the back while still jumping forward to serve as the team’s connection to their attack. Finishing and creating his team’s only goal, Jones played the most important part in winning a lead ahead of the second leg.
Unfortunately, it’s a second leg he’ll miss. A first half yellow card means Jones sits the Germany match having accumulated too may cautions.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
The Türk Telecom pitch needs a lot of work – By the end of the day’s game, Gala’s field was as chewed up as an old MLS pitch after a college football game. Divits throughout led to a choppy, uneven finish, with neither team able to muster a cohesive attack around the field’s ruts.
Excuse me for being too obvious, but shouldn’t a team that can afford Drogba and Sneijder be able to maintain a better field? Granted, Istanbul averages about two-and-a-half inches of rain each February, but it’s not the only place in the world that has to deal with winter precipitation.
I’m sure there’s a good reason why the pitch was destroyed by the end of the night, but was still destroyed.
Gala didn’t set up to Wesley Sneijder’s strengths, either – During the half he was on the pitch, Wesley Sneijder spent part of his time out left, part of his time playing behind the strikers, with Galatasaray shifting formations. It was a curious deployment for a player who has never been able to display his talents when a team isn’t build around him.
That was one of the problems during his last days at Inter, but moving to Galatasaray, it was assumed Fatih Terim would play to Sneijder’s strengths. That’s not what happened on Wednesday.
You want these teams in the quarterfinals – Whichever team makes it through this tie, the other seven quarterfinalists will be hoping to draw them. Neither team performed like a side that could threaten in the Round of 8, and while you never know how teams might improve between now and the next round, the rest of the competition would gladly take their chances against Schalke and Gala.
Packaged for takeaway
- Drogba enabled Terim’s formational flexibility. At the start of the match, the Ivorian played up top with Yilmaz in a 4-4-2, but when Terim brough Sneijder in, Drogba played wide in the defensive phase, with Gala assuming a 4-2-3-1.
- For a convereted midfielder, Albert Reira held up reasonably well at left back for Gala. Granted, there were times when Jefferson Farfan made him look slow, but Jefferson Farfan does that to anybody. Against a Schalke team that tended to favor their right side, Reira didn’t cost his team anything.
- Because of that right lean, you can see why Michel Bastos was a particularly good fit for Schalke. The former Lyon man, deployed on the left of the formation, has license to blindly attack when given the ball.