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Valencia's first 60 minutes are going to be forgotten, echoing a story we commonly hear at the top levels of professional football. One side is dominant in possession and chances, dictating the play throughout that time while only generating a slight lead on the scoresheet. On Tuesday in Spain, it was 1-0, a 17th minute goal from Roberto Soldado, redirected a great cross from Jeremy Mathieu.
In the 64th minute, with Schalke's second or third change of the match, Raúl made Valencia play for their inability to find a second goal. The former Real Madrid attacker, playing his first match in Spain since leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, got on the end of a long ball out of the Schalke end, using his second touch to put a left-footed shot to the far post of Vicente Guaiti for the Germans' equalizer.
It was an unfortunate turn for Guaiti, in for the injured César, who gave a strong performance. The second choice `keeper did well to palm a Peer Kluge header against the cross bar in the first half, keeping Valencia in front. In the second half, Guaita was called to lay-out multiple times in order to keep the score even.
That even score would hold until the final whistle, with Schalke taking a relatively large edge back to Germany. The score draw means a 0-0 at Veltins-Arena would send Schalke into the quarterfinals.
But the story of the day isn't Schalke's accomplishment but Raúl's goal. It was the Spanish attacker's 69th goal in European competition, a tally that moves him even with Gerd Müller on the competitions' all-time goal scoring list.
The final moments of today's match at the Mestalla - the minutes where Schalke was supposed to try and bleed out the match and take a 1-1 draw back to Gelsenkirchen - Schalke nearly stole a second goal. First it was Raúl, as regulation time ran out, taking advantage of a bad give away by Tino Costa, nearly chipping Vicente Guaiti from the far left. Next it was Hao Junmin, recently on for Klass-Jan Huntelaar (as Felix Magath's third, time wasting substitute) who burst through the midfield with the ball, pulling up at the edge of the area for a shot that forces Guaiti to lay-out to his right. Where Valencia had made changes intent on chasing the match, it was Schalke that looking more like the winning side.
Late in the match, however, Schalke got some bad news. Left back Lukas Schmitz, booked very early in the match, saw a second yellow, apparently for some language directed at am opponent. Schmitz will now miss the return leg in Germany.
With the last touches of the match, Aritz Aduriz put a dead ball cross to Manuel Neuer's far corner, with some suspect Schalke defending giving Valencia supporters reason to think their side could improbably salvage a win in stoppage time.
But it wasn't meant to be, leaving the record-breaking goal from Raúl to be the match's decisive score. With that 64th minute tally, Raúl not only became the most prolific scorer in European competition but also reversed an hour of Valencia control. With the equalizer, Schalke has an all-important road goal, sending the match back to the Veltins-Arena with the German club holding the advantage.
Having gotten their road goal, Schalke now appears to be playing for the second leg, as evidenced by the need for two, silly yellow cards. In the 78th minute, Manuel Neuer picked up a yellow card for stalling. In the 81st, teammate José Manuel Jurado was also cautioned for disrupting a free kick.
Schalke has also made their first substitution, taking off the attack-minded Jefferson Farfán (who has done little to stop Jeremy Mathieu's influence on Valencia's left), bringing on young Julian Draxler in the 79th minute. Three minutes later, Edu was on for Jurado, a move perhaps intended to protect Felix Magath's carded, left-sided midfielder.
As the match goes on, there is a sense from both teams that the day's action has played out. Valencia has most of the ball and is making the obligatory entries into the Schalke third, but they're easily dispossessed, often given the ball back with impatient crosses that eschew a more intricate build-up. Schalke's able to start some half-hearted counters, but now firmly in the mindset to take the match back to Germany, their attacks fizzle quickly.
Now with two minutes of regulation time remaining, the match is still 1-1.
After Raúl brought Schalke even in the 64th minute, Unai Emery made an immediate adjustment, knowing a 1-1 result puts his team down going back to Gelsenkirchen. As a result, Valencia's brought on Joaquin, who had two goals at the weekend, as well as Vicente. Alejandro Domínguez and Ever Banega have been sacrificed, with Emery set to go with an aggressive 4-4-2.
The formation should give Valencia some width they'll need as the match goes on, with Schalke, having their road goal, possibly content to take this scoreline back to Germany. That change won't matter, though, if Valencia keeps giving Schalke openings as they did in the 74th minute, with a back pass from to Vicente Guaita forcing the goalkeeper out of his box to play a ball that was about to be intercepted by a Schalke attacker.
Now eight minutes after Emery made his two substitutions, Valencia still do not seem to know how to play in their new formation. Or, maybe Valencia is shocked after dominating the match only to see Raúl give Schalke the advantage. Regardless, Valencia is just now coming out of their funk, finally seeing some play in Schalke's third.
Approaching the 80th minute, Valencia and Schalke are tied 1-1.
Ricardo Costa has picked up a slightly comical yellow card, the central defender failing to pull-up on an attempt on goal, putting the ball past Manual Neuer after offside has been whistled. Disturbing for Schalke: Costa wasn't offside on a ball looped over an advancing line. Where it not for the erroneous whistle, Schalke would have given up another chance, if not a goal.
Moments later, all was forgotten, and Valencia's dominance was wiped out by a record-breaking goal. Raúl, taking a pass from the left by Jurado, got ball-side of David Navarro, allowing him to get a left-footed shot off from 14 yards. Sliding one yard inside Vicente Guaita's far post, Raúl ties the match in the 64th minute (1-1), his 70th career goal in European competition.
The tally gives Raúl even with German great Gerd Müller, the attackers now joint top of the list of all-time goal scorers in UEFA competition. In the moment, the goal also gives Schalke an all-important road goal, completely turning a match that had been all-Valencia.
Now 68 minutes in, Valencia will be pushing for another goal, now tied 1-1 with Schalke.
At this point, Schalke has to hope their 1-0 deficit can hold through full-time, because although they recently crafted a good chance for Raúl, Valencia continues to generate scoring opportunities. In the 55th minute, it was a ball played across the top of the area, through Mehmet Topal, for Aritz Aduriz to the left of goal. The Valencia attacker tried to get his right foot around a ball targeting the far post but did not get it far enough away from Manuel Neuer. The score remained 1-0, Valencia.
The disturbing part for Schalke is the increased influence Valencia's midfield - Topal, Ever Banega, and Tino Costa - are having on this match. In the first half, those players were relatively quiet save Costa, who had a moment of danger in the middle of the period. In the second half, both Banega and Topal have been involved in chances, and in creating another flick on chance of Roberto Soldado, Jeremy Mathieu (who assisted on the only goal) continues to be influential down the right.
Where Schalke was able to be strong in the middle early in the match, now the are strong nowhere. Even as Jefferson Farfán finally takes advantage of Mathieu on Schalke's right, generating a headed chance for Raúl that was defended well by Ricardo Costa, you wonder if Felix Magath needs to shift gears, adjust to an approach that starts to account for Valencia's advantages, and take this match back to Gelsenkirchen down only a goal.
Approaching the hour mark, Schalke is fortunate to only be down 1-0.
The second half started with a defensive mistake by Schalke, hopefully not a harbinger for their second half against Valencia. A long ball from David Navarro was misplayed by Benedikt Howedes, who chested the ball down and behind him for Aritz Aduriz to run onto. The ball, played back out, turning into a chance for Alejandro Dominguez, his shot ultimately blocked.
The chance was the first of three within two minutes to start the second half. Valencia nearly went two up when Ever Banega played a ball through the six, with Roberto Soldado nearly sliding onto it at the far post. Moments later, a long ball out of Schalke's end looped over the defense, allowing Raúl to run onto a shot from 18 yards. For the second time today, Vicente Guaita mae a big save, diving to his right to keep the shot out.
It's a flying start to the half, one that's maintained the open feel that Valencia dominated through the first 45. Now 52 minutes in, Los Che maintain their 1-0 lead.
Valencia controlled the first 45 minutes at the Estadio Mestalla, and as a reward, the home side has a 1-0 lead over visiting Schalke. The match's goal came int he 17th minute, with Jeremy Mathieu providing for Roberto Soldado, a near post cross from the left that was redirected past Manuel Neuer.
Schalke's best chance came early in the half when a ball played back into the Valencia area after a corner kick was headed down for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutch striker had an uncontested shot that he scuffed, the mishit half-volley failing to test Vicente Guaita. Schalke came close to an equalizer mid-way through the half when Peer Kluge nearly headed a corner kick over Guaita only to see the understudy keeper palm the ball against the bar.
Valencia put five shots on goal in the half compared to Schalke's two. Valencia's also held 63 percent of possession, a fair indication of the type of half it's been. Schalke's remained compact, waiting to challenge until Valencia brings the ball into their half. Unfortunately for Schalke, Valencia has had success getting into attack, seemingly figuring out Schalke after eight minutes.
Peer Kluge, with a reckless tackle, gave Valencia a dead ball play in the 33rd minute. The restart was in a weird spot, though - the middle of the pitch, about 35 yards out, preventing Valencia from working on the kind of angles you normally see successful set pieces delivered from. But that didn't prevent Los Che from giving the home crowd a reason to gasp.
Alejandro Domínguez played a ball to the right of Schalke's wall to a surprisingly open Aritz Aduriz. The Valencia attacker trapped the ball six yards from goal, to Manuel Neuer's left, before letting go of a sharp angle shot. The attempt went just wide of the near post, high and into the side netting, giving Schalke's poor defending a reprieve.
Minutes later, Kluge gave up another foul in a similar spot, begging questions as to when he'd see yellow. This time, it seemed Tino Costa would have a go, moments earlier having blistered a left-footed shot on Neuer from 26 yards. Instead, it was Dominguez who send a curling attempt just over the cross bar.
Now through 40 minutes, the play is all Valencia. Los Che lead 1-0, but we could see another before half.
Schalke's best chance of the match may have been the early ball Klaas-Jan Huntelaar whiffed on, but in the 25th minute, they were finally able to test Valencia's replacement goalkeeper. With César still out, Vicente Guaita is in goal for Los Che, and just over half-way through the period, he's made his first contribution, getting a left hand to a Peer Kluge header, putting it off the cross bar, preventing a goal.
The chance came from a corner kick, with Kluge attacking the ball at on the far side of the play. Miguel never elevated as Kluge, over the back of Valencia's right back, nearly evened the score.
Moments later, Miguel was part of a Valencia near miss. A ball played from the left-center of midfield saw Miguel with space wide on the right. Lukas Schmitz could not get out to Miguel in time to prevent a cross from 15 yards from the byline, a ball that found the had of Roberto Soldado, who had two steps on Christoper Metzelder. The flick toward goal went two yards wide of the far post yet served as a second example of the damage Schalke could do wide.
At some point, Felix Magath is going to have to get a better defensive effort from his wide midfielders, Jefferson Farfán and Juando. If neither is going to track their man back into their own third, then Unai Emery's narrow set-up, relying on his backs for width, will prove a clever tactical ploy. Since near the 10th minute, Schalke's proven unable to stay with the Valencia backs, the reason why they're down 1-0.
Valencia had employed a very left-leaning approach through the match's early moments, their build-up forced wide by Schalke's defense. Though the first 16 minutes, entries down Jeremy Mathieu and Alberto Costa's side has been easily stopped, but one moment of brilliance - chalkboard execution - has given Los Che and early lead. Mathieu, put behind the line by Artiz Aduriz, played a near-post cross for Robeto Soldado, the Valencia strike redirected his side in front.
The crux of the play was build just outside the Valencia area, to the far left of Neuer's goal. There Aduriz had a ball played to his feet, on which he turned and put Mathieu behind right back Atsuto Uchida. The first touch from Mathieu sent a liner of a cross to the near post. Neuer went for it but could not get their fast enough, with Soldado coming on to redirect the ball home.
It was Valencia's first meaningful chance of the match but one that was easily converted. Uchida got no help from right wing Jefferson Farfán, and as a result had no chance to defend against both Aduriz and Mathieu. When Neuer couldn't get to the cross, Valencia had an easy and early 1-0 lead.
The first major chance of the match came to Klass-Jan Huntelaar near the 12 minute mark. The Schalke attacker found himself alone in front of goal at the end of a corner kick play. From eight yards out, the Dutch forward had a right-footed, half-volley chance to beat an out-of-position Vicente Guaita - a sitter. The scuffed shot was never close to going in, leaving the sides scoreless.
Since, Schalke has continued to reverse the story of the opening eight minutes. Then, Valencia controlled the tempo, though they were unable to threaten Manuel Neuer. Now, Schalke has the better for play, and although they have yet to test Guaita, Huntelaar's opportunity was easily the chance of the match.
In response, Valencia seems to be more restrained, showing more patience on the ball when trying to enter the opposition half. They're still be forced to the flanks, particularly their left, by Schalke's set-up, with the German club quick to move out to the wings as the backs bring the ball across half-way.
That pressure, though, has resulted in the match's first card. Joel Matip, coming out of central midfield to challenge along Valencia's left, was shown a yellow card in the 17th minute. With Anthony Annan cut-tied, Matip must be careful.
Now through 17 minutes, the teams are still scoreless.
They've kicked-off at the Mestalla, and within 20 seconds, Artiz Aduriz is appealing for a handball in the Schalke area. No whistle goes as Manuel Neuer scoops up a ball that rolls through to him, the Schalke `keeper quickly punting the ball back to Los Che.
Early, it's difficult to tell if either side plans on playing particularly conservative or aggressive. Valencia has dominated possession, but Schalke's shown they're willing to pressure the moment the ball comes past midfield. That pressure, most often, is being applied on the flanks mostly, with Valencia having to go wide to Miguel and Jeremy Mathieu to move forward into the Schalke half.
After five minutes of Valencia control, Schalke started having their first spells on the ball, working down their left hand side, seeing Jurado and Lukas Schmitz have some luck against Miguel. But once in the final third, their attack broke down, with Valencia able to start another spell of possession.
Now approaching the 10th minute, neither club as meaningfully threatened the other, leaving the score Valencia 0, Schalke 0.
Unai Emery has started an ambitious lineup, with all of Roberto Soldado, Aritz Aduriz and Alejandro Dominguez in his starting XI, though that may not necessarily lead to more goals. In starting what could be a 4-3-1-2 (with Dominguez leading the midfield), Emery seems to have sacrificed width against a side that could be exploited by it. If Schalke is intent on playing conservatively, Valencia may be playing into their hands.
For Felix Magath, the lineup is predictable. He's going with the 4-4-2 he's settled-on, Joel Matip coming into midfield for the cup-tied Anthony Annan. It's the team that's helped Schalke limit opponents to two goals in their last eight Bundesliga matches. Should they want to play conservatively, Schalke may be able to hold what looks to be a surprisingly narrow set-up from Emery.
Whereas before the lineups were announced, I though Valencia had a good chance of getting a 1-0, perhaps even a 2-0, now I wonder if Schalke might get out of the Mestalla with a result, particularly with Jefferson Farfán going up against Jeremy Mathieu.
Here are the teams, with SB Nation Soccer live coverage to start with the 2:45 p.m. kick-off.
Valencia, Starting XI: Vincente Guaita - Miguel, David Navarro, Ricardo Costa, Jeremy Mathieu - Mehmet Topal, Ever Banega, Alberto Costa - Alejandro Dominguez - Roberto Soldado, Aritz Aduriz; Bench: Brunco, Cesar, Hedwiges Maduro, Joaquin, Jordi Alba, Pablo Hernandez, Vicente
Schalke 04, Starting XI: Manuel Neuer - Atsuto Uchida, Christoph Metzelder, Benedikt Howedes, Luka Schmitz - Jefferson Farfán, Joel Matip, Peer Kluge, Jurado - Raúl, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar; Bench: Ali Karimi, Edu, Hans Sarpei, Hao Jumin, Julian Drazler, Mario Gravranovic, Matias Schober
On Tuesday, Estadio Mestalla in Valencia will host a match out of the nightmares of those who prefer the old European Cup format. When men were men and wheels had corners, only teams that won their leagues qualified for UEFA's premier competition. But then times change, we no longer walk barefoot in the show, and the concept of a cup competition fades into a more inclusive league. As a result, Champions League has 76 participants and we're left with a knock-out phase match-up of Germany's runners-up and Spain's third place side.
For Schalke 04 and Valencia - two teams that faced dismantling and rebuilding projects this summer - getting this far is an accomplishment. Felix Magath sold nearly the entire Schalke defense while losing leading goal scorer Kevin Kuranyi. To compensate, Schalke brought in Christoph Metzelder, Jose Manuel Jurado, Raúl and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar only to see the team entrenched in the drop zone throughout the season's opening months. Now up to 10th in the Bundesliga, Schalke has renewed aspirations for Europe, though a return to Champions League is beyond their reach.
Valencia's rebuilding has seen no such downturns, and given the dire need Los Che had to sell their stars - getting rid of payroll while garnering a transfer fee - 2010-11 has been an unexpected success. Gone were David Villa, David Silva, Carlos Marchena and Nikola Zigic. In came €77 million, money that went toward the acquisitions of Roberto Soldado, Aritz Aduriz, and Alberto Costa (as well as paying servicing debt). Thus it was quite a surprise that Valencia was an earlier leader in the Spanish Primera. Though they have since slipped off the pace of Barcelona and Real Madrid, Valencia are still third - where they finished last year - and on pace to cut into the 25 point gap that separated them from Real Madrid last season.
Unfortunately, the story of two scuffling clubs rarely makes for a compelling Champions League match-up. When you think of Europe's premier club tournament, you don't think of a mid-table Bundesliga team facing a second-tier Spanish power, let alone two that gutted their player pool eight months before. Those types of teams are supposed to be sifted out in group stage, but here we are, and with the help of a great job by Unai Emery and a Group B that saw Lyon and Benfica play as shadows of their 2009-10 selves, we're left waiting for Schalke and Valencia to kick-off at the Mestalla on Tuesday.
Thankfully, Schalke and Valencia's recent play will help augment the absence of European royalty. Since 2011 dawned, Valencia has not lost in the Primera Division, posting a 6-0-1 record that's helped them vault Villarreal and regain third place. While Schalke has failed to post similar results (2-2-1 since the Bundesliga restarted), results at Hannover (1-0 win) and rival Borussia Dortuman (0-0) show the capability of Magath's club.
Schalke has the players to threaten, should you let them, with Jefferson Farfán providing width (down the right) that can stretch a defense, opening up space in the middle for Huntelaar and Raúl, playing in Spain for the first time since moving from Real Madrid this summer. From midfield, Jurado lurks while recently acquired Anthony Annan bolsters, sitting in front of a central defense pairing of Metzelder and Benedikt Höwedes. It's a defense that's helped Schalke limit their opponents to two goals allowed in their last eight matches, a stretch that includes shutouts against Bayern Munich, Hannover, and Borussia Dortmund.
Schalke's key, however, will be goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. As the German international reinforced in last Friday's Rieverderby, Neuer is capable of stealing results, preventing Borussia Dortmund from a deserved three points. With Schalke having only allowed three goals in six Champions League matches (and presumably content with a scoreless draw), Neuer would be a nearly impenetrable last line of defense behind a team intent on taking the tie back to Gelsenkirchen even.
To combat that, Emery may need to either insert a second striker (while keeping the width Joaquin and Pablo Hernández provide on the flanks) or start his 4-2-3-1 while using Ever Banega as one of the pivots. Still, this season it's becoming difficult to predict who Emery will start in a given match. Part of the success Valencia's experienced this season stems from Emery's willingness to mix and match. Whereas Magath has settled into a 4-4-2 with Schalke, Emery could employ any number of approaches, including Alejandro Dominguez at the top of a diamond, behind Soldado and Aduriz. That unpredictability - the inability to have a stationary target to set-up against - may also inform Magath's decision to play for the second leg.
Of course, it's always dangerous playing for a 0-0 on the road in Champions League, where one goal allowed at home doubles the opposition's rewards. Magath knows this and, according to quotes published on UEFA.com, wants to avoid it.
"Valencia as a team are similar to Lyon but stronger in attack," he said, alluding to how Emery sets-up his team. "We are hoping to get a goal to give ourselves a better chance in the second leg."
Schalke lost 1-0 at Stade Gerland in group play, their only loss in route to first place in Group B. On Tuesday, they will have to improve on that performance. Even though they subsequently beat Lyon 3-0 at Veltins-Arena, they're unlikely to get such passivity from Valencia. As Magath hinted, Schalke is stepping up in competition on Tuesday, something that could lead them to take the opportunities they're given and, if none are presented, wait for friendlier confines before trying to take control of the match.
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