Istanbul: Big-spending Galatasaray will be looking to carry their strong Champions League group stage form into Wednesday’s last 16, first-leg tie when they host a Schalke side low on confidence.
The Turkish team finished their Group H campaign with wins over Cluj, Manchester United and Braga and then pulled off the biggest coup of January’s transfer window by signing Dutch star Wesley Sneijder and Ivory Coast veteran striker Didier Drogba.
Having won last season’s Champions League title with Chelsea, Drogba came off the bench to score on his debut in Friday’s 2-1 win at bottom side Akhisar Belediye as Galatasaray went seven points clear in the Turkish league table.
“These investments will pay off,” said Galatasaray president Unal Aysal, who is eager to bring Champions League success to Istanbul. “The revenue from the Champions League will cover the costs.”
Galatasaray have lost just once at the Ali Sami Yen Sports Complex Arena in the league this season and Fatih Terim’s team are looking for four European wins in a row against Schalke.
The hosts hope to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2001, while Schalke have reached the last eight twice in recent campaigns, in 2010/11 when they were semi-finalists, and in 2007/08.
Although Schalke won their group, including an impressive away win at Arsenal in October, they have just one victory in their last 12 matches to drop from second to ninth in the Bundesliga.
Schalke are unbeaten in Europe this season and have been boosted by the return of Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who is fit again after suffering an eye injury.
Royal Blues’ coach Jens Keller, who took over from Huub Stevens in December, makes his Champions League debut and has been told his job is safe — until the end of the season.
Having sold midfielder Lewis Holtby to Tottenham Hotspur in January, Schalke brought in Michel Bastos from French side Lyon and the Brazil star has scored three goals in his last three games, including both goals at Mainz.
“Even before I made the switch from Lyon to Gelsenkirchen I knew about the quality of this Schalke side,” said Bastos. “The team have the ability to solve the current problems.”
While Schalke showed some fighting spirit to twice come from behind on Saturday, captain Benedikt Hoewedes said his side must build on that.
“We showed morale and fought until the final whistle,” said the Germany defender. “We now want to take the momentum with us to Istanbul.”
Five of the Galatasaray team were born in Germany, including midfielder Hamit Altintop, who played for Schalke between 2003 and 2007.
“I played my first Champions League match while at Schalke 04 and it will be nice to face them,” said the 30-year-old. “There are no easy games at this level.
“The draw may seem easier than it could have been, but I know the German culture: they will be a team high on discipline. An interesting couple of meetings lie ahead.”
With a strong Turkish community in Gelsenkirchen, Galatasaray can count on some support at the Veltins Arena for the second leg in Germany on March 12.