What We Learned from Galatasaray vs. Schalke
Galatasaray were held to a 1-1 draw with Schalke in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday.
The Turkish side went ahead early due to a Burak Yilmaz goal in the 12th minute, but Jermaine Jones drew the visitors level shortly before the half-time break and the score held until the final whistle.
The result was perhaps a dream for the visitors, whose poor run of form has seen them win just one out of their last 13 matches. The hosts, following their January acquisitions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, might have hoped for more.
Still, with just half the tie having been played, it all remains in the balance and either team could well go through. Although there is still no clarity as to which is the better club, there are several notable talking points to take from Wednesday's match. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a full analysis.
Drogba and Sneijder Still Need Time to Settle
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Galatasaray splashed the cash in January as they signed Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. With neither cup-tied and both having won the Champions League before, it was clear that the Turkish side intended to use their experience and class to lift them to success on the international stage.
Things did not exactly go perfectly with Drogba and Sneijder on Wednesday, however. Although he held up the ball well, the Ivorian looked every bit of his 34 years and was no direct threat from free play.
Sneijder, perhaps in part due to his being used out of position on the left wing, was no asset. His playing time has been limited since 2010, and the Dutchman looked out of form and confused in a new system. He was replaced at half-time.
Both Drogba and Sneijder have more to offer than they showed on Wednesday. They are still yet to settle. The good news for Gala is that the second leg is still three weeks away, so there is plenty of time to find their form.
Howedes Not the Magnificent Captain After All
Benedikt Howedes has given some inspired performances for Schalke in the Champions League during his career. He was brilliant against then-title holders Inter two years ago and inspired S04 in their Group B campaign this season.
On Wednesday, however, Howedes was very poor. He was guilty of the cardinal sin of losing possession at the edge of his penalty area, his weak touch teeing up Burak Yilmaz for the opener.
In the second half, Howedes again conceded possession deep in his own half. Only a fortunate offside call (and a fantastic one-on-one save from Timo Hildebrand had the linesman's flag stayed down) saved the German international from what could have been another humiliation.
Howedes otherwise played a rather composed game, but two terrible mistakes could have left his reeling Schalke side unnecessarily on the verge of elimination. Schalke need luck on their side, not freak mistakes from their players. And especially not from their star and captain.
Schalke Got More Than They Could Have Hoped for
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Heading into Wednesday's match, Schalke had won just one of their last 13 games. They'd slipped from a position contending for second place in the Bundesliga to one in which a Europa League spot would be considered a good, if fortuitous finish to the domestic campaign.
Even against a Galatasaray side that only advanced to the Round of 16 side based on a better head-to-head record with Cluj, the danger of Schalke losing by several goals was very real. And after Burak Yilmaz put the hosts ahead on 12 minutes, it appeared that the Germans were set to return to Gelsenkirchen all but knocked out.
And yet, Schalke managed to scrape by with a result that has left Gala needing to score in the second leg in order to advance. For a team so low on confidence, sharpness and luck, the result is more than the visitors could have hoped for.
One Club Will Advance, but Neither Deserves It
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Heading into the Round of 16, Galatasaray and Schalke were perhaps the two weakest teams remaining in the Champions League. That they play one another is extremely fortuitous for the winners, because neither side would have stood much of a chance against many of the tournament's remaining contestants.
Both goals scored in Istanbul were fortuitous, coming from elementary mistakes that are unbecoming of Champions League teams. Clubs that make such errors are usually eliminated in the group stage, but in this instance, two trickled through to the knockout rounds.
This isn't to take anything away from the effort the two clubs gave. To their credit, they played with hearts on sleeves and gave everything they had. But neither club had much.
Looking around Europe, many excellent, more deserving teams will be eliminated even if they play better football than the winners of Schalke versus Galatasaray.
One of Real Madrid and Manchester United, one of Milan and Barcelona and one of Shakhtar Donetsk and Dortmund will fail to advance to the quarterfinals. The losers of those three ties can only feel cheated when they look at the winner of Schalke versus Galatasaray.