Galatasaray combine head and heart in Schalke clash

Posted by Cetin Cem Yilmaz

When you think about Galatasaray's performances on the European stage, you have a rough idea on how they are. That never-say-die attitude. Not going out without a fight. Heart over head. Spirit over skill.

Against Schalke, Galatasaray needed two halves of the best of both worlds to clinch a 3-2 win in Germany to stamp their ticket to the Champions League quarterfinals on a 4-3 aggregate. The first half was 45 minutes of Galatasaray playing with a remarkable tactical discipline. The second half was pure, bodies-put-on-the-line battling.

- Altintop screamer helps Gala oust Schalke

On paper, Galatasaray started with almost the same team from the first leg (apart from using Emmanuel Eboue this time), but the midfield formation was the difference. Felipe Melo was the deep-lying defensive midfielder and Selcuk Inan was sneaking more in the left flank, giving Wesley Sneijder the chance to stroll in the middle more. The fourth midfielder, Hamit Altintop, was the key, with the way he joined the others in the middle more often, making Galatasaray hold on to the possession more often. The pass trafficking gave Galatasaray their chances of stinging Schalke through the middle, with Selcuk and Didier Drogba having clear goal-scoring chances in the opening stages of the game.

Even after conceding from a bizarre corner kick, Galatasaray managed to keep their discipline. A fantastic long-range effort by Altintop finally gave Galatasaray what they needed. With the goal, Altintop broke his long-standing curse of hitting the post at the very first stadium where he bloomed as a footballer in the first place. With the second goal that came through a counterattack, again from Gala's hit-machine Burak Yilmaz, whose stunning goal spree continues, the game seemed to fit well with coach Fatih Terim's plan.

However, the second half was sheer madness and virtually impossible to predict. The first 15 minutes had almost nothing but Semih Kaya trying to stop Schalke attackers. Then Melo looked like joining Semih and Dany Nounkeu in the back line, which was actually stuck in the penalty area. Schalke were repeatedly hitting a wall, but tirelessly trying new ways to pass the line, but a phenomenal Fernando Muslera stood firm -- except the goal, which again came after allowing the Royal Blues too much time with the ball in the zone.

It is hard to know whether Galatasaray could survive 45 minutes of torture if Schalke had Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with them, but still, the Turkish champion could do better with more possession or try to create a few counterattacks just to break the grinding Schalke pressure. Still, they withheld and got the icing on the cake with Umut Bulut's goal that ended Schalke's unbeaten run.

In a dramatic game like this it is hard to single out some individual performances, but Muslera's display was definitely one for the ages. It is quite likely that "Muslera against Schalke" will go down in Galatasaray folklore like current former club hero and current goalkeeping coach Taffarel's performance against Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup final. To continue drawing the parallels, Semih's attempt to plug every hole in the defence, before going out to an injury, was another classic performance that remembered the club's iconic defender Bulent Korkmaz in his heyday. Melo was similarly combative to give one of his best performances in a Galatasaray shirt and tried his best to stop the leaks of nearly unstoppable Julian Draxler. Eboue did his best to stop rushes of Michel Bastos. Selcuk Inan shone again with his two assists and Altintop added both a hard edge and maturity to the midfield.

However, the key to Galatasaray's triumph may be lying deep in Sneijder's performance. The Dutchman did not only give his best performance with Galatasaray, but he also reminded everyone of the Sneijder circa 2010, when he was contributing to the both sides of the Inter Milan game under Jose Mourinho’s guidance. He was efficient in passing and did a decent job of pressing up, just showing that he is alright with Terim’s philosophy which he last month articulated as "having star players battle on the pitch as much as the others." After a string of questionable matches, Sneijder showed he is finally starting to blend well with the rest of the team. And not only on the pitch: The way he hugged Terim to celebrate Umut's last-gasp goal was arguably the most beautiful scene of the night for Galatasaray.

For Drogba, he also conceded that he is not at his best physically, adding that it is hard to come back. However, when he asked whether he believed Galatasaray could go all the way and beat the odds like Chelsea did last year, the Ivory Coast icon said anything is possible.

That just sums up the mood at Galatasaray right now.

ESPN Conversations