Champions League preview: Schalke v Valencia

Inconsistent at best in the Bundesliga, Schalke will hope their cup form continues against Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday.

A traditional powerhouse of the German game, Schalke finished second in 2009/10, five points behind champions Bayern Munich.

They recruited extensively in the close season, bringing in defender Christoph Metzelder and veteran forward Raul from Spanish giants Real Madrid, as well as Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Serie A side AC Milan.

But Felix Magath’s widespread changes fizzled and the team made a slow start to the season.

They went back into the transfer market in January and brought in Greece international Angelos Charisteas and highly-rated midfielder Anthony Annan, who impressed for Ghana in the 2010 World Cup.

Still the struggles have continued – they have won only two out of eight league games in 2011 and are a disappointing 10th in the table.

The only encouragement this season has been the team’s form in cup competitions.

They topped their Champions League group ahead of Lyon and Benfica and are in the final of the DFB Pokal after knocking out holders Bayern Munich with a 1-0 semi-final win last week.

True to their unpredictable form, they followed up that triumph with a 1-0 defeat to relegation strugglers Stuttgart in the league on Saturday.

Nevertheless, Magath’s men secured a promising 1-1 draw at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie on February 16.

The away goal, netted by Raul to become the leading scorer in European Cup history, could yet prove crucial.

Valencia meanwhile have impressed this season, but are a distant third behind La Liga juggernauts Barcelona and Real Madrid.

While they have little hope of breaking up the two-horse race for the Spanish title, Valencia could represent a nasty obstacle in the latter stages of the Champions League – but only if they can overcome Schalke at the Veltins-Arena on Wednesday.

Forward Juan Mata has stepped up this season to fill the void left by the departures of David Villa and David Silva, while French full-back Jeremy Mathieu has proved to be a genuine threat on the left flank.

 


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