The signings of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder have undoubtedly given this tie a degree of intrigue. Schalke were certainly pleased with the draw back in December, but a poor run of form and their opponent’s transfer activity has certainly dampened their confidence.
The Turkish side used a standard 4-4-2 system in the group stage but Fatih Terim has openly questioned how best to use his new stars, especially Sneijder, a playmaker that has become increasingly limited in his positioning. Galatasaray appear to have two options – slot Sneijder and Drogba into the side in place of forwards Burak Yilmaz and Umut Bulut to form a 4-4-1-1 shape, or sacrifice the wide midfielders in favour of a 4-3-1-2 system. Schalke will continue with a 4-2-3-1 system, but Jens Keller will hope that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar recovers from injury to lead the line to allow Jefferson Farfan to return to a right-sided role. The signing of Michel Bastos has allowed Julian Draxler to replace Lewis Holtby in the central playmaking position.
With Galatasaray’s approach so uncertain, both tactical options open to Terim will be analysed.
Galatasaray’s 4-4-1-1 vs Schalke’s 4-2-3-1.
A 4-4-1-1 system offers Terim the benefit of keeping the majority of his team together and simply replacing the forward line. Galatasaray would continue to defend with two lines of four, and pose a threat on the wings with attacking full backs and wide midfielders, although the switch would be extremely harsh on Yilmaz and Bulut who have scored 24 league goals this season. Essentially the two sides would adopt similar systems – both playing with a back four, a positive midfield triangle, wingers and a lone forward.
The difference is the balance of Schalke’s midfield. Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustadter are used to playing a holding role, and will comfortably move between covering Sneijder and engaging Selcuk Inan and Felipe Melo. They will also get support from Draxler who will energetically press Galatasaray’s midfield. In contrast Inan and Melo are accustomed to playing in a flat midfield, and will need to adapt to the demands of occupying the space in front of their defence whilst also competing in the middle of the pitch. They are also unlikely to receive support from Sneijder – the Dutchman has become notoriously disinterested in the defensive phase, so both Jones and Neustadter may find themselves with time on the ball.
Drogba would also be required to lead the line on his own. While his form at Chelsea last year demonstrated that the Ivorian still has plenty to offer, he may struggle to impose himself on Schalke’s back line if left isolated. Both Nourredine Amrabat and Hamit Altintop are natural wide midfielders used to shuttling up and down the flanks, whereas Bastos and Farfan are far more aggressive for Schalke and link up with Huntelaar to form a front three in attack.
Galatasaray’s 4-3-1-2 vs Schalke’s 4-2-3-1.
A 4-3-1-2 shape requires a greater overhaul of the Galatasaray team, but arguably offers the home side’s new signings the best framework for their talents. Fielding Sneijder behind two forwards offers him more targets for his incisive passing, whilst a midfield three allows him to ignore the midfield battle and concentrate on finding space. In attack, Drogba may be used to playing as a lone forward, but in his advanced age a partner willing to run into the channels may be beneficial.
The benefits of the system are centred around the midfield battle. With Melo able to play a holding role and cover Draxler, both Inan and Altintop can compete in midfield against Jones and Neustadter, which in turn should allow Sneijder to find space, either centrally or out wide. The loss of Galatasaray’s wide midfielders offers Sneijder the perfect opportunity to drift into areas between Schalke’s wingers and their full backs. Galatasaray’s full backs Albert Riera and Emmanuel Eboue are also capable of providing attacking width having both spent much of their careers playing in midfield.
However Schalke’s obvious advantage comes out wide. Both Christian Fuchs and Marco Hoger look to get forward from full back, which will force Galatasaray’s widest midfielders to shuttle between the midfield battle and defending the flank. This is not an easy task, and both Fuchs or Hoger are likely to occasionally find themselves unmarked. In such a situation Schalke will need to maximise this advantage by keeping their wingers wide and doubling-up on the Galatasaray full backs.
Galatasaray’s key is Sneijder, and Terim will want to select the system best equipped to get the most from his playmaker. Using a 4-4-1-1 shape may be attempting to challenge Schalke at their own game, and the midfield battle may leave Sneijder double marked by Jones and Neustadter. A 4-3-1-2 system may be more tactical upheaval for the home side, and it would certainly weaken them out wide, but outnumbering Schalke in midfield may be Galatasaray’s best option for creating space for Sneijder and also offering Drogba adequate support in attack. Keller’s plans rest on the fitness of Huntelaar – the Dutch striker may not be having his strongest season, but his inclusion allows the team to adopt a familiar shape and style, whereas if Farfan is required to lead the line Schalke are robbed of a natural target man.