Istanbul is a wonderful city. It is unique in the combination it creates between the “mystical” and foreign East, and the modern West. It’s also the biggest city in Turkey and if you’re an avid traveler, surely it’s a city to visit. With its history going back for 2700 years and its metropolitan structure it’s a great destination. It is no less when it comes to football either as it’s the home of Turkey’s “big three” – Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
Not so long ago it seemed like this “Big three” was about to become “Big two” as Besiktas were struggling with everything that a football club could have problems with – They were on the verge of collapsing financially and was having problems to compete with Galatasaray and Fenerbahce domestically. But when Fikret Orman took charge in 2012 the club started to rise from its ashes just like a phoenix. Orman made the club financially stable again and since 2015 -when the club appointed Senol Gunes as their manager- they have been dominating the Turkish League.
But the main challenge for Besiktas is just starting.
Since Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup back in 2000, Turkish clubs have been struggling to be successful in Europe. Crashing out in knockout rounds or even failing to qualify past the group stage, Turkey as a country are really hungry when it comes to European football. Fikret Orman and Senol Gunes are planning to change that.
“We want to become successful and become a regular in Europe, we have the ambition and we got what it takes to progress.” said Orman in a press conference last year.
Besiktas had a great transfer window so far. They’ve managed to sign some great additions while keeping key players like Ozyakup, Talisca and Quaresma in the squad. Sold Marcelo, arguably last year’s best defender, to Lyon for a fair fee of €7.5m and unwanted Rhodolfo to Flamengo €1.4m. Signed some big names like Negredo, Medel and of course the Portuguese international Pepe to hopefully strengthen their weakest link – centre of the defence. In addition to those three, Besiktas have also signed Lens who had an unbelievable season last year with Fenerbahce, Caner Erkin from Inter – who was also great for Besiktas on loan last year until his injury, Nukan from Leipzig (on loan) and the promising talent Cinar from another Turkish side Gaziantepspor.
Besiktas are not done still, they’re looking to sign a decent central defender to strengthen the squad even more.
Besiktas have directly qualified to the group stage just like last year, as they’ve won the title. But they will be hoping to do better than last year in the Champions League as they failed to get past the group stage in 16/17. Unbeaten until the last game with some great performances such as beating Napoli 3-2 in San Paolo with (now a Porto player) Aboubakar scoring a brace and coming back from being down 3-0 at half-time against Benfica to make it 3-3 at Vodafone Park in Istanbul…
Unfortunately Besiktas lost to Dynamo Kiev on Matchday 6 of the group stage in Ukraine with a shocking result of 6-0, with two of their players getting sent-off early and conceding an offside goal as well as a doubtful penalty, with the Turkish media calling referee Craig Thomson’s performance as “absolutely disastrous” and “unacceptably biased against Besiktas”
Despite this loss to go out in the group stage in such an abysmal way, Besiktas managed to pick it up and made it to the Quarter-finals of the Europa League, where they got eliminated to Olympique Lyonnais on penalties.
Manager Senol Gunes will surely want to do better in their second year in the competition and qualify past the group stage this time, building on from there.
Besiktas generally play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, tend to retain possession and quickly move the ball to break through the defence. They also tend to clear the ball to the right flank to find Quaresma dispossessed -as he hugs the line while the rest of the team plays with a narrow length- and rely on his crossing skills as he’s a
brilliant crosser of a ball (he was the team leader in assists with 16 in all comps. last season)
Besiktas’ main goalscoring threat is the 26-year old striker Cenk Tosun. He’s a natural finisher – clinical in the box and undoubtedly aerially effective too. The Turkish international scored 24 goals last season, as well as the Champions League’s goal of the season. A free-kick specialist, Talisca is also a threat in front of goal, scoring 17 goals in 33 appearances last season. New signing Alvaro Negredo is also an option for Besiktas as an attacker, as he’s experienced and a proven goalscorer.
Besiktas have better depth in their squad in comparison to last season, with having great rotation options in terms of wingers. Gökhan Töre returned from loan and Dutch international Jeremain Lens joined from Sunderland. Babel and Quaresma have picked up from where they’ve left off and been decent so far this season too. Besiktas pose a great threat from the flanks because of these players and their constantly overlapping full-backs: Erkin, Adriano, Gonul and Beck.
The midfield is arguably Besiktas’ strongest area – with great players to pick from such as Ozyakup, Medel, Hutchinson, Uysal, Arslan and of course Talisca. The midfield rondo of Hutchinson, Ozyakup and Talisca was the best in the league last season as Besiktas dominated in possession every game, with these three playing the main role of keeping the ball and dictating the play. Hutchinson mainly plays as a defensive midfielder – despite his age he is the main workhouse of the team, always doing his duty box-to-box, whether it’s to win the ball back and launch a counter-attack or even score a bullet header in the 90th minute to win the game. Ozyakup mainly plays as a deep-lying playmaker as he’s a great passer with great vision. He’s the captain and will always give his everything for the team. Anderson Talisca, now in his second-year on loan from Benfica, was the star player of last season. Scoring bangers like it’s nothing, with a left-foot compared to the Brazilian legend Rivaldo’s, he is definitely a player to watch. Generally playing as a shadow striker behind the main attacker, he’s the cherry on top for the team. Fabricio is the first choice goalkeeper of the team, mainly playing as a sweeper keeper. He can use both feet effectively and he can also pass the ball, just like the rest of the team.
However Besiktas are still struggling in terms of defence, as they are yet to form a decent duo in the middle. After Marcelo signed for Lyon in the summer window, Besiktas lost their best defender and yet to make up for it despite signing Pepe. They’re still in the market looking for one as neither Tosic nor the Croatian international Mitrovic satisfy Besiktas’ needs. Tosic is clumsy with the ball and somewhat error prone while Mitrovic had issues adapting to the team in the first place. It’s their worst weakness and the team might have some serious problems if the board fail to sign a player.
To conclude, Besiktas are definitely better and stronger than they were last season. They’re the favourites to win the title domestically once again. The players are more experienced and hungry for more. Senol Gunes and the team in general have learned from their mistakes and more driven to do what it takes to satisfy the fans’ needs. The question is, is it enough to progress beyond the group stage this time? Besiktas are drawn in Group G with Monaco, Porto and RB Leipzig and with a bit of luck, they might see it through. The odds might be against their favour but hey, you should always expect the unexpected, shouldn’t you?
Photo: Anadolu Agency