Schalke vs. Galatasaray: 5 Key Battles to Watch
Schalke and Galatasaray are set to kick off the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 clash on Tuesday. And following their 1-1 draw in the first leg in Istanbul in February, there is still everything to play for.
Burak Yilmaz had the Turkish side cruising towards the quarterfinals following his early opener, but Jermaine Jones drew the visitors level on the stroke of halftime. The score remained deadlocked until full time, setting the stage for a thrilling finale in Gelsenkirchen.
The Germans were in a dearth of form at the time of the first leg, but enter Tuesday's match on a high note having won three consecutive matches including the Ruhr derby against arch-rivals Dortmund on Saturday. The most recent victory came at a hefty cost, however, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sustained a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for the second leg.
Gala won't have to worry about their striking options but have experienced an opposite run of form, having drawn and lost their last two matches, respectively. The Istanbul club still have plenty of talent in their squad, however, and will relish the chance to progress to the last eight of Europe's elite club competition.
Fans can expect a close match in the second leg, with the details making the difference between progression and elimination. Among those details are several key battles between the contestants. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown of the ones to watch.
Atsuto Uchida vs. Wesley Sneijder
It's been a difficult year for both Atsuto Uchida and Wesley Sneijder as both have played below their potential and struggled for playing time.
Sneijder was an outcast at Inter before receiving a lifeline in transferring to Galatasaray in January, but still has yet to fully settle in. He played just 45 minutes in the first leg before being substituted, and although he scored his first goal for the Istanbul club just days later, he has done little more since moving to Turkey.
Having won the treble with Inter in 2010, there is no questioning Sneijder's ability. He has the potential to erupt with form and the class to decide games on his own. But will he on Tuesday? That remains to be seen.
Uchida made a strong impression at right-back following his signing from Kashima Antlers in 2010 and was Schalke's undisputedly starting right-back until this season. The 24-year-old has had some setbacks, however, and has only appeared in 16 of a possible 25 Bundesliga matches in 2012/13, and four out of seven Champions League fixtures.
There is still some question of whether Uchida will start the second leg against Gala, but following his brilliant display in the derby over the weekend, it would be very cruel for Jens Keller to keep him on the bench. The Japan international assisted both of his team's goals in the biggest game of the domestic season. On Tuesday he'll look to maintain that form against Galatasaray.
Sead Kolasinac vs. Hamit Altintop
Experience and potential face off on the wing on Tuesday as Hamit Altintop tries to break down Sead Kolasinac.
During his illustrious career, the 30-year-old Hamit has won domestic titles in Germany and Spain and played in the Champions League final and European Championship semifinal. If the occasion of potentially advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals is not enough motivation, Tuesday's match will be especially important to the versatile midfielder, who will return to his hometown to face the club he played for from 2003 to 2007.
Hamit has always been a big-game performer and is well-known for being able to score some stunning goals. In fact, it was a brilliant strike for Turkey against Kazakhstan that won the 2010 Puskas Award for best goal of the year.
Kolasinac is a very different player from Hamit. Still just 19, he only became a regular starter in recent weeks after Christian Fuchs fell out of favor with coach Jens Keller.
To have displaced a player as well-regarded as Fuchs speaks volumes of the quality and potential of the Bosnian-German Kolasinac. The Karlsruhe native and Germany U20 international is less of a technical player, but adds real quality in defense.
A centre-back for most of his youth career, he has adapted very well to play on the wing. But he faces a new level of competition as he takes on the ever-dangerous Hamit on the greatest stage of club football.
Julian Draxler vs. Felipe Melo
With Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sidelined due to injury, the onus will be on Julian Draxler to be Schalke's main threat through the centre. It's unclear exactly how he will be positioned, but whether as a "false nine" or a classic playmaker, the 19-year-old will be charged with the task of creating opportunities in the final third.
Draxler has been in tremendous form as of late; he scored the opener against Dortmund and provided two goals and an assist against Wolfsburg the week before. Capable with both feet and also as a creator and finisher, he is the hosts' most lethal force in attack.
Felipe Melo will be the man to try to shut down Draxler in the center. The 29-year-old's career has not exactly taken the trajectory one might have expected in 2009, when he was a regular starter for Brazil and part of Juventus' big plans to regain their status among Europe's elite clubs.
Still, the ex-Fiorentina holding midfielder should not be underestimated. He has performed at a very high level in the past, and although it's been some time since he showed his class, he is by no means a lost cause. Heroes are made and broken in games like Tuesday's, and Melo will have the chance to rebuild his profile against Schalke.
Benedikt Howedes vs. Burak Yilmaz
Burak Yilmaz started the first leg where he left off in the group stage, firing Gala to an early lead. The striker has hit the target seven times in as many Champions League games this season, leaving him just one strike behind tournament leader Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 27-year-old has been tremendously prolific overall this season, hitting the target 21 times in 33 appearances in all competitions, including once against Manchester United. Gala head into the second leg needing at least one away goal, and Burak is decidedly their most likely source.
Benedikt Howedes will be charged with the task of defending him. The Schalke captain made an uncharacteristic error in the first leg that put the striker through on goal for the opener, and will hope to make amends on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Howedes certainly has the faith of the Schalke board; on Saturday, he penned a three-year contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2017. He played brilliantly in the derby against Dortmund and will hope for a repeat performance as he looks to settle the score with Burak.
Joel Matip vs. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba was a big figure in the headlines following the first leg, but not for his performance on the pitch. Schalke appealed to Uefa that the Ivory Coast international was illegally used in that match, given that he was not registered to play in the Champions League until February 5, days after the January 31 deadline. But that appeal was struck down on February 27, and Drogba is now clear to play in the second leg.
The veteran striker, who turns 35 today, showed a year ago that he still has the class to decide matches. He scored several pivotal goals in the Champions League, particularly his late header in the final to force extra time against Bayern Munich, and it is for this reason that Gala signed him in midseason.
Still just 21 years of age, Joel Matip is approximately 13-and-a-half years younger than Drogba. Still, the Bochum-born Cameroon international has uncommon experience given his age. He's already played in 99 Bundesliga matches, the most recent of which was a master class in the derby against Dortmund.
Facing a very physical striker in Robert Lewandowski, Matip was outstanding. He kept pace with the Poland international and won almost every 50-50 ball that came his way, effectively nullifying his opponent. Only thanks to a brilliant assist did the Dortmund striker find the net.
Matip will come against a slower but equally imposing Drogba on Tuesday, and will have to be at the top of his game for the full 90 minutes to ensure the striker does not find the target.