Schalke in driving seat after gutsy away day

Posted by Ross Dunbar

Amid relentless pressure and scrutiny, Jens Keller and his players emerged from a potential problematic first leg in Istanbul with a 1-1 draw to keep their critics at bay, for the time being.

- Yilmaz: Tie far from over for Galatasaray

The Turkish SuperLig leaders had a weight of expectation behind them with last season's Chelsea spot-kick hero Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder bolstering their options, whilst the Royal Blues fell into a malaise which has seen them drop to ninth in the Bundesliga, leaving their Champions League hopes for next season in tatters.

This relatively inexperienced Schalke 04 side - that was missing the likes of Fuchs, Afellay and Papapdopolous - were gutsy and grafted for their under-fire interim coach Keller who recently received the dreaded vote of confidence, albeit a dedicated one, from sporting director Horst Heldt. They were due a break and they got one after a difficult start in Turkey's largest city.

Spurred on by an electric home crowd, Schalke struggled to cope with the chaotic tempo of Galatasaray's intense-pressing midfield three - and Burak Yilmaz scored a deserved opening goal after 12 minutes. The 27-year-old stole the headlines from strike-partner Drogba, taking his goal record in the tournament to six goals in six games.

But German-American midfielder Jermaine Jones's ambitious, advanced-midfield run to carve open the Turkish defence on the counter-attack was the crucial transition in the Royal Blues levelling the scores on the stroke of half-time with a composed finish.

His first goal in the Champions League for five years was a cause for celebration; but a moment of indiscipline means Jones will miss the second leg in Gelsenkirchen. A player who has his fair share of doubters - but Jones' industry and determination was the fulcrum to a resurgent performance from the Germans.

In hindsight, their league match in Mainz looked to be the perfect preparation for the match in Turkey. Coming after weeks of disappointing results, Schalke 04 needed something to unite the group and Frenchman Michel Bastos struck twice at the weekend to peg Mainz back, as Keller's side showed impressive powers of recovery to secure a point that has picked up belief in the camp.

It might have cost over £100 million but the surface resembled a worn-out battlefield with the Royal Blues standing tall against Galatasaray. In addition to Jones, Roman Neustadter's work-ethic, interceptions and effective use of the ball was a useful facet in Schalke's 4-2-3-1 system.

Without regular Austrian full-back Fuchs, Sead Kolasniac provided more solidity on the left-side of the back-four - and the young 19-year-old set the benchmark with some forceful challenges and a strong tempo in possession.

The return of Huntelaar from a burst eye vessel was a boost but it was Keller's use of pace in supporting positions that allowed Schalke's counter-attacking game to test Galatasaray. Teenage attacking-midfielder Julian Draxler produced a mature, disciplined performance, playing the connecting role between midfield and forward players. He might not have impacted the game aesthetically, but his positioning and understanding of space was fantastic and it was no surprise that he became the most dangerous outlet on the break.

Perhaps over-zealously admiring the mental strength and fighting spirit of Schalke 04 cheapens their overall performance on the night.

The truth is, though, the Bundesliga side should have been more ruthless in their finishing and would have been good value for an away win in Turkey. Huntelaar's inclusion was necessary given his quality in attack, but he was off the pace and snatched at most chances which came his way inside the box. Even on the break, his decision making was rash and he rarely influenced Schalke's attacking play.

They only conceded one goal, but defensively Schalke continue to look clumsy, especially in the heart of the backline. Yilmaz's diagonal runs on the shoulder of Benedikt Howedes and Joel Matip exposed a glaring lack of organisation that will be duly exploited in the latter rounds of the tournament - should Schalke progress.

In any case, it was an adroit Draxler - and sheer pace in the wide-areas that unsettled Galatasaray, in particular, the Gelsenkirchen-born Hamit Altintop. Whereas the Turks had the proverbial "12th man" to increase momentum on their part when in the ascendency, Schalke are unlikely to have that same boisterous, bordering on fanatical, vocal support in the Veltins Arena. The 4,000 travelling Germans made themselves heard on occasion and will have been buoyed by their positive showing against Galatasaray.

For sure, the surface at the Turk Telekom Arena was horrific for a Champions League clash and the second tie in Germany could feasibly be a tougher test for Schalke. The same doggedness and energy will be required for the return match, and also a more controlled method of playing.

It was far from pretty, but Schalke 04 are in the driving seat at the halfway mark.

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