Schalke 04 Vs. Valencia CF, UEFA Champions League Preview: Unai Emery Tries To Find Formula To Derail Blues' Run In Europe

Schalke got no more than they deserved three weeks ago when Raúl scored in the scored half of his return to Spain, sending Schalke's Round of 16 tie with Valencia back to Gelsenkirchen tied 1-1. Having gotten the away goal and a draw, Felix Magath's side would logically be thought of as having an advantage, though recent ties with similar first leg results haven't always seen that advantage pave a road to advancing. Last year, of the two teams that went home with a 1-1, only one advanced. The previous tournament, same result. One club failed to build on their 1-1.

Building on the First Leg

Based on Schalke's results since their draw at the Mestalla, last year's Bundesliga runners-up look vulnerable. In league, they've lost to two relegation battlers (Borrusia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart), were drawn at home by Nürnberg, but won at the Allainz Arena, a result that looks less impressive the farther Bayern Munich falls in league. The culprit: An attack that's scored only five goals in their last eight matches, failing to score multiple goals in any match since January 25.

Valencia's form has gone in the other direction. After Schalke drew at the Mestalla, Sporting Gijon came to Valencia and did the same. Since, Valencia has posted impressive wins at Athletic Bilbao and Mallorca, in between losing 1-0 at home to Barcelona. They've built a four point lead on Villarreal for third place in Spain, and when you look at their result at the San Mamés against Bilbão, it makes sense to ask why Valencia couldn't win in Gelsenkirchen if they could get three on the road to Spain's fifth place side.

Familiarity would be the main reason. Whereas Los Che go to Bilbão every year, they'll only been to the Veltins-Arena once. In 2007-08's Champions League group play, a second half goal from David Villa gave the Spaniards a 1-0 win. Too bad only three players who featured that day are likely to play for Unai Emery today: Miguel, David Albelda, and Joaquin. For Schalke, the turnover has been ever greater, with only Manuel Neuer likely to feature again.

Injuries and Suspensions

Schalke has other significant absences for today's second leg, likely to be waged against a full-strength Valencia squad. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, with three goals in the tournament and seven in league, is out. Edu likely replaces him, though Mario Gavranovic was the choice this weekend at Stuttgart. Starting left back Lukas Schmitz is also out, suspended after picking up a second yellow card very late at the Mestalla. Hans Sarpei is likely to get the call from Magath.

Neither absence is likely to be debilitating for Schalke, though Valencia's diversity of attacking options could see Emery target Sarpei, should he be so inclined. Huntelaar's loss looks big on paper, but the Dutch poacher missed a good opportunity early in the first leg. Perhaps Gavranovic could take advantage of a similar chance. Perhaps he won't even be in the same location. Regardless, Schalke had success in Spain without a contribution from Huntelaar.

How They'll Set-Up

The absences won't change Magath's approach. He'll play a 4-4-2 that will sometimes sees Raúl play as much as an attacking midfielder as a supporting striker. Farfán's ability to get forward on the right will be important in augmenting the attack, while Jurado's playmaking from the left will be as vital today as it was in building the first leg's goal.

Valencia, however, is much more difficult to predict, as far as their set-up. In the first leg, Emery was without an injured Juan Mata and decided to start captain Joaquin on the bench, electing to use a narrow midfield of Mehmet Topal, Ever Banega and Tino Costa behind Alejandro Domínquez, deployed in a playmaking role. Artiz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado both started up top, a partnership we can expect again today.

Emery is a tinkerer, so it's difficult to predict what he will do today, but there is one tactic that worked three weeks ago that he will want to build upon today. Jeremy Mathieu had a strong match from the left back position, exploiting Farfan's unwillingness to track him into the final third, eventually setting-up Soldado's goal. With Magath unlikely to make significant changes, Emery can bring continue to count on getting his width on the left from the back, allowing him to start a more central player on the left, potentially creating an advantage in the middle against Peer Kluge and Joel Matip.

Pick

Most of what we've seen says Valencia's probably the better side, though if they are, it might not be by much. Schalke's been wildly inconsistent this season, yet they've managed to put together a good Champions League campaign. With so many contradicting indicators, it seems most likely that there's too little to separate these teams to be definitive about a pick. Valencia 2, Schalke 1 is one of the safer picks, though this might go to penalty kicks (1-1). If it does, Schalke has Neuer, while Valencia has the better group of players you'd want taking a chance from the spot.

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