Galatasaray AŞ have a tough tie against Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, but the Turkish giants are full of confidence going into the Santiago Bernabéu first leg, with experienced coach Fatih Terim having found the ideal formation to harness big-name signings Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba.
After Galatasaray landed Sneijder and Drogba in January, the question was how Terim would fit so many forward-minded players into his team. Following some unsuccessful experiments, Terim hit on the perfect 4-3-1-2 formula in the 3-2 win at FC Schalke 04 that sent his side into the last eight. Subsequent domestic victories against Kayserispor and İstanbul BB SK seemed to present further proof of the system's effectiveness.
Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has done a good job all term, while his defensive quartet includes Ivorian right-back Emmanuel Eboué – back on form since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations. Eboué offers vital attacking support, with Albert Riera providing a similar service down the left. The biggest pressure ahead of the Madrid game may be on central defenders Semih Kaya and Dany Nounkeu, though. They have struggled against weaker European opponents than José Mourinho's team – and even in Turkey – but can they rise to the occasion?
Hamit Altıntop, Felipe Melo and Selçuk İnan make up Terim's preferred midfield trio, with Sneijder deployed just behind front men Burak Yılmaz and Didier Drogba. That midfield can anticipate a stern test from Madrid, who are masters of the counterthrust. Melo and Selçuk İnan must be on full alert as they look to block the hosts' path on Wednesday, when the latter will be asked to give attacking aid too. Brazilian international Melo took a while to catch up after missing pre-season training, yet was one of the key figures in the second-leg triumph over Schalke.
In Saturday's 2-0 home success against İstanbul BB, Turkey midfielder Hamit arguably played his best football of the campaign, covering a vast amount of distance. Terim has huge faith in Hamit and showed great patience in him as he struggled to reach peak form. Hamit will have additional motivation against Madrid, having failed to make much of an impact when playing for the Merengues in 2011/12.
Meanwhile, after a difficult end to his time with FC Internazionale Milano, Sneijder appears fit and hungry, with his class and creativity increasingly visible, while in attack Drogba and Burak Yılmaz have struck up a partnership quickly. The 35-year-old Ivorian might have been expected to play as a classic centre-forward but has accepted a supporting role, supplying the ammunition for Burak to apply the finishing touches. Moreover, Drogba has been doing his bit in defence.
Burak, for his part, continues to enjoy a fantastic season. The Turkish Super League's 18-goal leading scorer, and the joint-top marksman in the UEFA Champions League with eight strikes, he has hit 13 in his last 11 matches and will deliver the main thrust against Madrid. The 27-year-old relishes open spaces and is adept at using his pace to latch onto through balls.
The way I see it, the Lions will be eager to take the game to Madrid in both legs. With their occasional frailties at the heart of defence, they may struggle to keep clean sheets against Real, yet if Terim can continue to get the best out of his pedigree attackers, Madrid will also have their hands full.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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