Galatasaray will be fired up by the arrival of Didier Drogba, last year’s UEFA Champions League hero, and Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder when they host struggling Schalke 04 today.
Drogba, who took the winning penalty for Chelsea in last season’s final, scored with a header five minutes into his Galatasaray debut on Friday, whetting the appetite of the 2000 UEFA Cup champions ahead of their round-of-16 first-leg match.
The Istanbul club’s confidence is running high after they won that game 2-1 against Akhisar Belediyespor, strengthening their lead at the top of the first division, which they lead by six points ahead of archrivals Fenerbahce.
“It gave us a morale boost ahead of the Schalke game,” Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim said.
Speaking after Friday’s victory, Terim said the club’s new arrivals had integrated rapidly as Galatasaray attempt to become the first Turkish side to reach the last eight since Fenerbahce five years ago.
“When he is fit, Drogba has the ability both to keep the ball for us up front and to lead the team. When you add Sneijder to that, we will perform much better. Both have integrated with the team very quickly,” Terim said.
Terim added that Drogba, 34, would need some time to get fully fit given that his season with Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua ended in November last year, despite having helped Ivory Coast reach the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Drogba scored the equalizing goal for Chelsea when they drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich in last year’s final, before netting the decisive penalty. He moved to Shanghai Shenhua after that, but cut short his stay in China amid reports of unpaid wages.
His deal with Galatasaray includes transfer fees totaling 6 million euros (US$8 million) and payments of 15,000 euros per match, plus signing fees of 4 million euros.
Drogba’s new teammate Sneijder signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with Galatasaray last month after leaving Inter.
The 28-year-old helped inspired Inter to a UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble in 2010, before helping the Netherlands finish World Cup runners-up. He struggled to maintain that success and was caught up in a contract dispute at Inter this season after failing to renegotiate his deal.
Sneijder and Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz are expected to support Drogba in attack today. Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo is also expected to return to the team after a four-game suspension.
Schalke have been boosted by striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s recovery from an eye injury.
“I feel 100 percent again and am ready to play,” the Dutch forward said.
His return could not have come at a better time for the club and coach Jens Keller, with Schalke in an extended rut with just one win in 11 games in the Bundesliga, despite topping their Champions League group.
Keller took over from Huub Stevens before the winter break, but has so far failed to turn their fortunes around.
Schalke are also missing half a dozen key players, including central defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, and forwards Ibrahim Afellay and Ciprian Marica.
New signing Michel Bastos, who struck twice in their 2-2 draw at FSV Mainz 05 at the weekend, will bring much-needed stability and experience to the Schalke squad.
“I knew of Schalke’s quality even before my transfer,” the Brazilian said.