Champions League Fixtures 2014: Analysing Wednesday's Key Individual Battles

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2014

Manchester City's coach Roberto Mancini of Italy is embraced by Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho from Portugal before a Champions League Group D soccer match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)
Daniel Ochoa De Olza/Associated Press

The first-leg encounters of this season's Champions League round of 16 reach their conclusion this Wednesday, the occasion marked with Real Madrid's trip to Schalke and Galatasaray's hosting of Chelsea.

In a bid to book themselves a place in the competition's quarter-finals, each side will be hopeful of claiming that initial advantage in the scoreline, giving themselves a chance for the return fixtures in a few weeks' time.

Looking ahead to Wednesday's matchups, we've considered exactly which one-on-one battles may have the most telling impact on each fixture.


Key Battles

Didier Drogba vs. Gary Cahill

With John Terry listed as a doubt for the trip to Istanbul due to a thigh strain, Gary Cahill could become the central defensive figure lumped with the duty of marking Didier Drogba this week.

The Englishman may not have as much knowledge on the Ivorian as his usual centre-back partner, but Cahill has lined up against some daunting offensive figures this season and still helped the Blues boast one of the most impressive defensive records in the Premier League.

Drogba will be all too familiar with how Mourinho might go about his game and the tactics he might deploy, making it all that more important that Cahill simply rise to the occasion on a physical level more than anything else, as positionally it will be difficult to contend.


Max Meyer vs. Xabi Alonso

Abraham Caro Marin/Associated Press

Max Meyer has assumed the role of chief technician among Jens Keller's creative ranks this season, his playmaking abilities being recognised enough to depose Julian Draxler from the central role in Schalke's attacking midfield.

However, Xabi Alonso will be working to quell that influence at the Veltins-Arena come Wednesday, with no certainty over just how much of the ball Meyer is going to see.

If Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is to see anything in front of Iker Casillas' goal this week, it's vital that his string-pulling midfield are able to get a grip on matters in midfield, but Alonso will be striving to disrupt that cause.


Sead Kolasinac vs. Gareth Bale

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

One might argue that never in his budding career has 20-year-old Sead Kolasinac come up against a talent quite as dynamic as Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, with the youngster facing a task of new proportions in midweek.

It's possible that the in-form Jese could be gifted a starting berth ahead of the Welshman, but neither scenario spells out great things for left-back Kolasinac. 

Bale's in good form, too, having netted this effort over the weekend, via Paddy Power:

In either case, the youngster can expect to be pulled this way and that, dragged into marking both feet of his opposing attacker, but Keller wouldn't have given the Bosnian international quite so much prominence this term if he didn't feel he was up to the task.


Wesley Sneijder vs. David Luiz

Paul White/Associated Press

With Nemanja Matic cup-tied, David Luiz and John Obi Mikel have timed their returns to the Chelsea line-up expertly, given the creative weapons that Roberto Mancini boasts in his setup.

Among those sits the jewel Wesley Sneijder, the man with the potential to unlock the Blues back four and set a rampaging Drogba or Burak Yilmaz loose should the English visitors let him.

As Squawka suggest, the Dutchman thinks he knows what's coming for Gala on Wednesday evening:

Luiz has shown some of his best form in the deep-lying midfield role that Jose Mourinho has come to accept him in, but his main priority this week will simply be ensuring that, alongside Mikel, Sneijder sees as little of the ball as possible.