Another huge match this evening as two teams that on their day can either excite or frustrate. Schalke have put their league form to one side and impressed in the Champions League group stage Kevin McCauley from World Soccer Reader looks at their chances against Valencia.

As most people know, Schalke 04 have been two different sides between the Bundesliga and European competition. Though they have climbed out of the basement domestically, Schalke are still in a mid-table position in Bundesliga when they were believed to be a title contender in the preseason. Meanwhile, they skated through the Champions League group stages, easily qualifying for the knockout round, where they drew Valencia.

However, this is not exactly the same Schalke side that qualified for the Round of 16. Two of the team’s key pieces are gone. One through contract issues, and one through personal issues. Ivan Rakitic has moved on to Sevilla in La Liga after being sold in the January transfer window. The attacking midfielder’s contract was up in January, and Schalke were keen to get some sort of compensation as opposed to letting him walk for free.

Under completely different circumstances, defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones has gone to Blackburn Rovers on a loan with an option to buy after falling out with Felix Magath. These players have been replaced with Iranian attacking midfielder Ali Karimi and Ghanaian defensive midfielder Anthony Annan. It remains to be seen what kind of an impact they’ll make, but Annan was very good in his first outing for the club in the Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund.

However, Anthony Annan will have to wait to play in the Champions leage for Schalke, as he is cup tied. Young Cameroonian international Joel Matip came in for Annan as a substitute in Schalke’s win over Freiburg, and I like him to start the first leg. Valencia could play with a 4-4-2 formation, starting both Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado up top, which would lessen Annan’s responsibilities. However, it seems much more likely that Valencia will line up in a 4-2-3-1 shape with three of Juan Mata, Pablo, Vicente, Joaquin, and Jordi Alba making up that band of three.

Felix Magath will probably be hoping that Unai Emery opts to go with two strikers instead. Or, Magath could throw a wrench in things by starting someone else in that spot, but in the event that Valencia go 4-2-3-1, With Annan unavailable, Matip is the best man for the job of breaking up Valencia’s attacks.

On the other end of the pitch, the matchup between Schalke’s attacking players and Valencia’s back line seems like a favorable one for Die Königsblauen. It took a while for Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Raul to settle in with the club, but they’ve turned into a dangerous pair. Additionally, with Ivan Rakitic gone, Jefferson Farfan is now almost certainly Schalke’s most dangerous player and he seems the most likely man to wreak havoc on Valencia’s defense.
Talent-wise, the gap between these two teams doesn’t seem that large, so it might come down to luck and tactics. In the luck department, Valencia are certainly kicking Schalke’s tails this season. In the tactics department, it’s tough to separate Magath and Emery.

For now, I like Valencia to win the tie on away goals or penalty kicks, but I could easily see it swinging either way. To me, it seems too close to call.

Faced with the thankless task of trying to catch Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, Valencia will be looking forward to the oppurtunity of a run in this competition. David Cartlidge from Spanishfootball.info fills us in on their chances.

Valencia come into the game on a fantastic run of form, having won six of their last eight games and are sitting pretty in 3rd place in La Liga. Many however, would say that form and placing doesn’t tell the full story.

A good amount of the victories have come in the very last moments in games, and they’ve also benefited from some fortuitous officiating as well as poor lapses in judgement by the opposition at crucial times – though it could be argued they’ve been proficient enough to capitalize on such errors.

The thing with Valencia has been their inability to blow opponents away as such, and they’ve never really looked in control throughout any game. There is always a decent period within the 90 minutes that they’ll switch and off give away 4 or 5 very decent chances to the opposition, purely down to the fact they like to coast all too often.

There are many factors to this, one being Unai Emery’s fascinating, albeit frustrating pragmatism when it comes to setting up his side. Emery likes to tinker with his formations and personnel, and while many acknowledge his obvious talents as a manager there are some questionable features of his management style.

Valencia at one time or another has played with at least five different formations this season, though Emery perhaps favours his 4-2-3-1 over any of the others due to its stability at the back while at the same time focusing on the side’s main strength – wide play.

In midfield Los Che contain a lot more depth, and the most impressive player this campaign has been Tino Costa. The Argentinean signed from Montpellier in the summer and hit the ground running, becoming an integral part of any system which Emery employs, operating well in midfield by showing good ball retention as well as distributing it to more advanced players as he sits deep in the central areas ‘pulling the strings’.

Costa’s job is one seemingly vacated by Ever Banega, who was the star of last season but he’s failed to shine this season, perhaps finding unease with constant chopping and changing of systems as well as having ongoing off the field problems with Emery.

Juan Mata looks set to miss out the first leg through an injury, and this is of great benefit to Schalke as Mata has become the star of the team since David Silva and David Villa both departed for new pastures. Despite playing through of his career so far predominantly as a left-sided winger, Mata has found a new lease of life in an almost free-role operating all across the front line and has supported the lone striker well when in the team.

In a nutshell I’d say Valencia are a team who are vulnerable at the back and whom can be opened up when put under pressure, but must be watched incredibly closely on the counter attack when taking into account the quality they have in wide areas. The central hub of Costa and Banega is also a key facet, to let them keep the ball and dictate would be mistake of the German side’s part – and could be the difference between qualification and having their European trip cut short.

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