Schalke tie far from over for Galatasaray

Posted by Cetin Cem Yilmaz

"Concentration" is one of the buzzwords among Galatasaray fans. It's used on banners, fan-made videos and social media feeds. But against Schalke, the Turkish champions forgot about it for large proportions of the crucial Champions League game.

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Following Galatasaray's mid-season signings of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, added with Schalke's continuing slip in form, the two sides have looked like swapping their statuses of the favourite and the underdog as the draw initially suggested. However, the 1-1 draw in the first leg of the last 16 showed that Galatasaray still need some time.

Especially if Galatasaray are aiming for Champions League success, as hinted at in the latest of the fans' "choreography." The pre-game spectacular, which has become one of the finest entertainments at the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi for big games, featured the Champions League in the middle of a UEFA Cup and a European Super Cup, hinting that the club are seeking their "missing piece" to add to the two valuable other bits of silverware in the trophy cabinet. A banner reading "Turkey's pride is running to the target/Europe is gripped by fear of Galatasaray" accompanied the scene.

A crazy start to the game looked like justifying the assertion of Ultraslan, Galatasaray's leading fan group, who create most of the spectacles in the stands. It was just the 12th minute when Galatasaray found the opening goal, when Burak Yilmaz stole the show from Drogba and Sneijder and scored a fantastic goal following a well-constructed team effort that had key contributions from each.

Yilmaz is now level with Cristiano Ronaldo on seven goals in the Champions League and seems to enjoy every single moment he is given on European football's Mount Everest - especially after blowing his chance with Trabzonspor a year earlier with a three-match suspension after a silly red card.

That is a reminder just how far Burak has come. He is now more focused than ever, does not get frustrated when things do not go his way - a problem he had for many years - and his confidence is sky high: the way he controlled the ball with a magic touch of heel and passed two defenders before firing a beautiful shot proves that.

Things could have gone better for Galatasaray if Hamit Altintop's shot had hit the back of the net instead of the bar just seven minutes after the first goal. But it was inevitable that Schalke, playing with a tireless duo of Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustadter in the middle, would take over. Leaving large spaces between their lines, Galatasaray had little chance to dictate the tempo and could not create opportunities through the middle while the Royal Blues managed to defend as a single unit.

Schalke found a valuable away goal through a counter attack. Yes, it came after an unreasonable gung-ho foray to the Schalke area and was sort of assisted by an expected clumsiness of courageous-yet-eccentric center-half Dany Nounkeu. Yes, the 45th-minute goal could have been averted. But judging by a poor second-half performance, Galatasaray have every right to feel that they escaped a worse result, especially after Schalke had the better possession and some horror misses.

One thing is obvious: Galatasaray still need time to find a solution as to where Sneijder, Drogba and Yilmaz will play together. Coach Fatih Terim's idea was to use Sneijder wide left and except when the Dutchman snuck into the centre, Galatasaray's formation looked like a 4-4-2. Sneijder was fairly ineffectual in that formation and was substituted at the interval. As for Drogba, apparently he is still not at his best, but the former Chelsea man showed signs of blending well with Yilmaz, even though the two still need some time.

The next 20 days will be crucial for Terim to find a solution on how to use the trio together.

Installing a diamond midfield where Sneijder is at the tip should be a solution, but that means Gala would be even weaker on the wings and would also require harder work for Selcuk Inan and Felipe Melo. One way or another, Terim has three Super Lig games to help his Dutchman fly before the crucial return game in Gelsenkirchen.

Of course, Galatasaray have done good business in signing Sneijder and Drogba, as illustrated by the fact the team attracted a healthy proportion of interest on a Champions League night that included a Milan vs. Barcelona fixture. But for a club whose goal is to join the European elite, the swampy turf at the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi is an embarrassment, especially after the pitch went through a serious facelift in the winter break. Coach Terim labelled the surface "scandalous" and humorously said "we will play the return game on a better turf."

It could be the pitch, or something else, but similarly, Galatasaray failed to win key home games against Braga and Cluj, but made it out of the group stage by beating those teams on the road. They will again hope to similarly turn things around at Veltins Arena.

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