Merely three months after Beşiktaş snatched the league title from Galatasaray’s grasp on the final day of the season, the Süper Lig is already back and ready for action. The defending champions opened the 2021/22 campaign with a 3-0 victory over Çaykur Rizespor, and the league, one that is consistently teeming with young talents and big-name players, promises to be another mouth-watering source of entertainment.
The other two titans of Istanbul, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, as well as Trabzonspor will be looking to seize revenge and prevent Beşiktaş from winning the title two years in a row. The title race, the race for fifth place and European football, as well as the relegation fight looks set to be a fascinating encounter in one of the most balanced leagues in Europe. Let’s take a look at all 20 Süper Lig teams heading into the new season.
Beşiktaş is probably the only one of the big three that has not modernized its recruitment strategy, but last season’s domestic double has nevertheless backed it up with results. The Eagles continue to bet on big-name players, or rather aging veterans that have little to no resale value. Apart from these players, such as Jermain Lens, there are also players who arrive after years of decline and with little confidence.
One of these players is Rachid Ghezzal, who joined after disappointing spells at Monaco, Leicester City and Fiorentina, and who proceeded to become the best player in Turkey with a phenomenal 8 goals and 17 assists. The project has worked this way, and as such, the signings of Alex Teixeira, Kenan Karaman, and Mehmet Topal give us the impression that Sergen Yalcin’s side will reach a higher degree of stability this season.
Moreover, Ghezzal and Valentin Rosier, two key players in last season’s league triumph, have joined on permanent deals from Leicester and Sporting, respectively. The only major departure that they have suffered is that of Vincent Aboubakar, who joined Saudi club Al-Nassr. The Eagles’ objectives are clear: compete in the Champions League and fight for everything at the domestic level. They have the team, coach and authority to continue imposing themselves and demonstrate that the hot streak of last spring was no mere coincidence.
New board, new players, and the same old manager for Galatasaray. Fatih Terih will have his work cut out for him in his fourth consecutive year in charge in his third spell with the Lions. Now, the project is different — the new board has placed the trust in him to get the most out of Gala’s young players such as Alexandru Cicâldău and Mostafa Mohamed. Gala have spent big to ensure that they are serious about challenging for the title — this should not be considered a transitional year.
It has been over two years since Galatasaray’s last trophy — beating Akhisarspor in the Super Cup after winning the 2018/19 league title — and the arrivals of Victor Nelsson, Sacha Boey, and Patrick van Aanholt will surely help them in their efforts. They are seeking to begin a long-term project, but one that realizes the importance of competing for silverware and that recognizes the importance that Terih can have when it comes to developing these players. They will need greater consistency in the home stretch of the campaign, and while the lack of a talisman may hurt their chances, Terim’s experience and the squad’s quality should see them challenge for the title again.
It has been more than seven years since Fenerbahçe last won a league title, with Ersun Yanal’s side pipping their rivals to the trophy on the back of some impressive form from Caner Erkin, Moussa Sow and Emmanuel Emenike. With the backing of president Ali Koç, Fener are making positive steps towards achieving this goal, bringing in several intriguing prospects and big-name stars such as Mbwana Samatta and Mesut Özil.
Five years after parting ways with the club, Vítor Pereira has returned to the club as manager. In his previous spell in charge during the 2015/16 season, Pereira’s Fener were narrowly edged by Beşiktaş to the league title and lost to Galatasaray in the Turkish Cup Final via a lone goal from Lukas Podolski, whilst they lost to Braga in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16. Pereira has made it clear that Fener will do everything it takes to challenge for the title up until the final day.
It’s perhaps this ambition and desire to win are crucial for a club that has been in free-fall mode the past few years, and that has struggled to deal with the big moments at the domestic and European level. With the signings of Serdar Dursun, the top goalscorer of the 2. Bundesliga last season, or Kim Min-jae, one of the best defenders in the Chinese Super League last season, Fener will be hoping to cover the most important areas of the pitch.
Fenerbahçe fan yells at manager Vítor Pereira and tells him to switch to a 4-4-2. Pereira responds and tells him to shut up.pic.twitter.com/neqmYFT4LC
— Zach Lowy (@ZachLowy) August 10, 2021
Although some fans may not like it, Pereira looks set to push his 3-4-3 formation and take advantage of his midfield options that are teeming with quality: Mesut Özil, Dimitris Pelkas, Mert Hakan Yandaş, Ozan Tufan, Luiz Gustavo, José Sosa, Irfan Can Kahveci and Miha Zajc. However, even with the Portuguese manager at the helm, it will be a Herculean task for Fener to edge their Istanbul rivals and conquer the league this season.
Trabzonspor has spent the past few years trying to build a long-term project with promising young talents, but the aching hunger of immediate glory forced them to change their model. Nine months into Abdullah Avci’s time in charge, we can notice a clear change for the better at Şenol Güneş Stadium. Only Galatasaray (36) conceded fewer goals than Trabzonspor last season, but despite their defensive solidity, they have felt the absence of Alexander Sørloth in attack, who netted 29 goals in the 2019/20 season before departing for RB Leipzig.
For this season, winning the league title is clearly one of their biggest priorities and they have decided to embark on a blockbuster shopping spree that has seen Gervinho, Marek Hamsik, Andreas Cornelius and Bruno Peres arrive at the club, linking up with the likes of Anastasios Bakasetas, Vítor Hugo, Uğurcan Çakir and Anthony Nwakaeme.
After 37 years of waiting, Trabzonspor are hungrier than ever before to win the league title, and with a star-studded Dream Teach coached by one of the most influential managers in Turkey, we can expect them to have the requisite maturity in their play to handle the competition and keep their composure against the Istanbul big three.
The race for fifth place and the final European spot is bound to be a mouth-watering fixture in the Süper Lig this season, and Sivasspor will be looking to repeat last spring’s feats and seal progression to the European Conference League. Three years after reaching the top-flight for the first time in club history, Sivasspor finished fourth in the league, placing six points behind champions Galatasaray. They placed second to Beşiktaş in the following year, but they were unable to stabilize themselves in the top-flight and suffered relegation in 2016.
Sivasspor bounced back to the Süper Lig the following year and have since finished in the top five positions in two consecutive seasons; more importantly, they’ve been the strongest Turkish club in European competition. No matter the injuries or departures that they have suffered, Riza Çalimbay’s bunch have continued to do much with little and punch above their weight against Turkey’s big fish.
They begin the league campaign on Monday against Konyaspor and will enter the new season with a streak of 21 consecutive matches undefeated. While this may burden them with unnecessary pressure, after a summer window with little in the way of departures, it is expected that the signings of Pedro Henrique, Dimitrios Goutas, Sefa Yilmaz, Koray Altinay, Okechukwu Azubuike and Leke James can help them raise their level.
Sivasspor will be counting on Ivorian forward Max Gradel to lead the line for them this season. The ex Leicester City and Bournemouth striker arrived from Toulouse on a free transfer last summer and netted an impressive 11 goals and 14 assists. Riza Çalimbay will be hoping that the 33-year-old maintains his lethal form in the final third and his veteran presence, as he attempts to continue making history with the Yiğidolar.
53 years after its founding, Hatayspor reached the Süper Lig for the first time in July 2020 and managed to fight for European football and do battle with Turkey’s biggest clubs, which has set the expectations high ahead of their second season. However, they could be set to suffer a killer blow — Aaron Boupendza is reportedly on the verge of joining Al-Arabi on a three-year contract for a fee of €5 million.
The Gabonese striker netted 22 goals in 36 league matches last season and with the transfer window set to close in two weeks, it is unlikely that the club could find a replacement of sufficient quality. However, keeping hold of ex Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf as well as the signings of Samuel Adekugbe, Mehdi Boudjemaa, Emre Çolak and Saba Lobzhanidze allow us to believe that Ömer Erdoğan’s side can continue to push the boundaries and finish in the upper echelon of the Süper Lig.
Since sealing promotion to the Süper Lig for the first time in 2016, Alanyaspor supporters have grown accustomed to having to rebuild their teams from the ground up. From Vágner Love to Emre Akbaba, from Merih Demiral to Anastasios Bakasetas, they have seen their team’s stars plucked away by Turkey’s biggest clubs, and this summer is no different: Salih Uçan, Steven Caulker, Berkan Kutlu and Georgios Tzavellas.
After an impressive fifth-place finish in 2019/20, Alanyaspor regressed to 7th the following season, but they have nevertheless built a reputation as one of the shrewdest buy-and-sell clubs in the division, whilst also leaving a positive impression with regards to their style of play and managerial selection. After multiple assistant coaching gigs across Turkey, Çağdaş Atan took the managerial job on August 12, 2020 and has since reaped 1.58 points per match, although he was unable to lead them past Rosenborg in a Europa League qualifier, losing 0-1 via a goal from Anders Konradsen.
Atan improved the team’s style from the prior season and maintained a direct style of attack, but it was not enough for them to reach Europe once again. They have, however, begun the season on a strong note with a 1-0 away victory against İstanbul Başakşehir thanks to an early goal from Braga loanee Cristian Borja, who has lofty shoes to fill after Caulker and Tzavellas’ exits. It is expected that young talents Umut Güneş, Oğuz Aydin and Fatih Aksoy will play a leading role in the fight to bring European football back to Alanya.
Italy have reclaimed their rightful spot atop the world’s footballing elite, defeating England in the European Championship Final and restoring pride in a team that failed to even reach the FIFA World Cup a mere four years prior. If there is any ‘Italian’ team taking root outside of Serie A, it’s Fatih Karagümrük, who returned to the top division after 36 years years of waiting in 2020 and surprised with an 8th-place finish, placing level of points with Alanyaspor.
After leading Alanyaspor to an impressive start that saw them challenge at the top of the league, Francesco Farioli left his assistant gig and was appointed as Fatih Karagümrük manager on March 21, 2021, becoming the youngest manager in Europe at 31 years and 348 years. The Roberto De Zerbi disciple has found success in Turkey with a vertical style of play and a well-oiled system, making this club one of the most attractive teams to watch in the league.
Last summer saw Jimmy Durmaz, Lucas Biglia, Yannis Salibur, Ervin Zukuanovic and Eric Lichaj join, whilst Ahmed Musa, Erhun Öztümer and Mehdi Benatia, among others, have arrived this window. They have demonstrated why they are heralded as a unique club that gives opportunities to its young talents and prioritizes a long-term process rather than short-term glory. These years will be focused on careful adaptation to the league and gradual improvement, in addition to a unique style of play that has shone the spotlight on one of the most promising young managers in Europe.
After yo-yoing from the fourth-tier to the second division for 31 years, Gaziantep finally reached the top-flight in 2019, achieving an impressive 8th-place under Romanian manager Marius Șumudică. However, Șumudică parted ways in January 2021 after an ugly, public divorce with the club’s divorce, prompting Portuguese manager Ricardo Sá Pinto, who lasted just five months before being given the boot.
With the arrival of a new president and manager, Gaziantep are set to undertake a transitional season under Erol Bulut. The 46-year-old Bulut has emerged as one of the most promising managers in Turkey during previous spells at Yeni Malatyaspor and Alanyaspor, but he lasted just seven months before being sacked as Fenerbahçe manager in March. They began their campaign with a 3-2 loss to Fatih Karagümrük on Saturday, who came out victorious via a late goal from Ahmed Musa.
Gaziantep’s transfers have failed to generate much in the way of excitement at the club, although the arrival of Chilean forward Ángelo Sagal could provide a boost in attack. Apart from Sagal, three players who suffered relegation — including ex Lille defender Hamza Mendyl — have joined this summer, and although they were amongst the brightest lights in their teams’ form, they don’t bring as much hype as other mid-table sides’ signings do.
Erol Bulut will be forced to paddle against the current in order to lead Gaziantep to European qualification for the first time in club history, and although they should have enough resources to stay up comfortably, punching their way into the top five could prove an impossible task for him to handle.
You’d struggle to find a more consistent club in Turkey over the past two years than Göztepe. After ending a 13-year absence and returning to the Süper Lig in 2017, Göztepe finished sixth before staving off relegation by a point in 2018/19, but they have since achieved stability in the form of an 11th-placed and 10th-placed finish. Not fighting for Europe, but not fighting relegation either.
They have managed to keep hold of Ünal Karaman, who arrived as manager in January a mere year and a half after challenging for the league with Trabzonspor, whilst the likes of Cherif Ndiaye and Makana Baku are expected to provide firepower as summer arrivals. Slovenian midfielder David Tijanić has joined from Raków Częstochowa for a club-record fee of €2.5 million, whilst the arrivals of Dino Arslanagić and Kahraman Demirtaş will be expected to fill the vacancy in central defense left by Alpaslan Öztürk’s exit to Galatasaray.
Demirtaş and Arslanagić will accompany Atinç Nukan, who, since arriving from RB Leipzig in 2019, has emerged as the leader of the team with an unrivaled poise and command of his defense. These positive signals indicated to us that Göztepe will fight for more than just mid-table mediocrity; they have achieved stability over the past two years, and with a new stadium and a promising manager in Karaman, the İzmir faithful will continue to dream of glory.
Next year’s summer solstice will mark the 100-year anniversary of Konyaspor’s founding, but despite being one of Turkey’s oldest football clubs, they have been forced to wait nearly a century to taste glory. Konyaspor finished third in the 2015/16 Süper Lig season, and the following year, they reached the Turkish Cup Final, edging İstanbul Başakşehir on penalties. They participated in the UEFA Europa League group stage in consecutive years, claimed the Turkish Cup and Super Cup, and have established their stadium as one of the toughest grounds to visit in the nation.
Recent seasons have seen Konyaspor regress to the mid-table and the newly elected board will be looking to bring the Anatolian Eagle back to the top five spots. Marko Jevtović’s exit to Al Ahli is certainly a heavy blow, but they have kept hold of the rest of their spine and added to their squad with the signings of Paul-José M’Poku, Serdar Gürler and Endri Cekiçi.
Since the appointment of İlhan Palut in February, the ex Göztepe manager has helped to shore up the club’s defense thanks in large part to two of the most promising central midfielders in Turkey — Amir Hadžiahmetović and Oğulcan Ülgün. Palut’s 4-2-3-1 has been a tough cookie to crack for quite a few sides, and if they can find a way to improve in the final third, they should be able to fight for a spot in the top half and make a deep push in the Turkish Cup.
After various years of desperately pushing for the league title, İstanbul Başakşehir finally achieved their objective in the 2019/20 campaign when they pipped Trabzonspor to the Süper Lig, becoming just the sixth club to win the title since its inception in 1959. However, they were unable to mount a solid defense of their title, and although they managed to defeat Manchester United in the Champions League, they failed to deal with the immense pressure on their shoulders.
The club eventually fell into a relegation fight and were only able to escape in the final weeks thanks to the work of Aykut Kocaman, who replaced Okan Buruk in January and managed to lead them to a 12th-placed finish and a trip to the Turkish Cup semifinals. The veteran manager is often criticized for his rather defensive style of play, but there is little debate that he knows how to get the job done and stabilize clubs that are in free-fall — this was no exception.
Several underperforming veterans such as Giuliano de Paula and Mehmet Topal have departed the club, whilst the likes of Ahmed Kutucu, Lucas Lima and Peter Zulj look to have the necessary quality to improve upon last season’s finish. However, if their opening day loss to Alanyaspor was any indication, they still aren’t 100% ready to challenge for the league title.
It is evident that they will improve defensively under Kocaman, but the attack continues to leave more questions than answers — Bosnian winger Edin Višća will have to return to his impressive 2019/20 form in order to turn around their poor form. A transitional year and a comfortable midtable position may just be what they are forced to settle for in order to rebuild a project with lofty dreams and fresh memories of silverware.
Three years after bouncing back to the top-flight, Çaykur Rizespor have struggled to consolidate their position with the club finishing 15th, 11th and 13th, never managing to achieve anything than avoid relegation. The team seemingly has the roster to challenge for more, but they have never quite made the step up and the constant chopping and changing of managers hasn’t helped either.
There are some big-name stars, but many of whom are in the twilight years of their career, such as former Chelsea striker Loïc Rémy, their attacking talisman. The 34-year-old Frenchman grabbed 7 goals the prior campaign, although the wear and tear of injuries and Father Time has seen him struggle to meet the previous levels he had set at Newcastle and Marseille.
The signings of Gökhan Gönül and Alper Potuk will provide a degree of experience and leadership, although manager Bülent Uygun will have to pull another rabbit out of the bag if he is to cope with a lack of resources and bring them to the top-half. Surviving a relegation fight and maintaining a midtable position should be the team’s #1 priority this season, and doing so will be easier said than done.
Since returning to the top-flight in 2012, Kasımpaşa have been marked as one of the potential revelations of the league, bringing in the likes of Ryan Babel and Eren Derdiyok, but despite some impressive front-office work and shrewd signings, they have never been able to break into Europe and validate the hype. In fact, last season saw them narrowly stave off relegation despite having one of the most complete squads in the division.
While the Apaches will likely struggle to make a push for Europe this season, the signings of Jeffrey Bruma, Valentin Eysseric, Umut Bozok and Nicolai Jörgensen, as well as their key player Haris Hajradinović staying put for another season, should in theory allow them to solidify a midtable position.
Şenol Can, one of the youngest managers in Turkey at just 38 years old, will have to keep betting on his attractive style of play and count on the likes of Bruma and Florent Hadergjonjaj in order to exploit the talent at his disposal and break into the top half. He has the confidence and backing of the board, and now, he will need to lead Kasımpaşa to what could finally be their breakthrough year.
Founded in 1986 as Malatya Belediyespor, Malatyaspor finally made the leap to the top-flight in 2017 and finished 10th in their first season in the Süper Lig, a modestly impressive finish but nothing close to that of the following season. The club finished fifth in the league, edging Fenerbahçe for the final European spot and losing to Galatasaray in the Turkish Cup semifinals.
They managed to edge NK Olimpija Ljubljana but were unable to overcome Partizan in the third qualifying round, an elimination that would set the tone for the season. Yeni Malatyaspor finished 18th, a result that would have confirmed their relegation were it not for the Turkish league suspending relegation for one year in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Whilst they managed to finish 15th in 2020/21, they found themselves just five points above the drop at the end of the season.
Malatyaspor have sold Zimbabwean defender Teenage Hadebe to Houston Dynamo and lost several players on free transfers, but they have brought in Scottish midfielder Stevie Mallan from Hibernian and have completed a permanent deal for Benjamin Tetteh after the Ghanaian forward registered 6 goals and 6 assists on loan from Sparta Prague.
Keeping hold of veteran attacking talisman Adem Büyük after his tally of 17 goals and 4 assists should be enough to see them stay up, but it’s far from a reliable strategy to count on a 33-year-old forward to carry your team’s attack from start to finish. The capture of Rayane Aabid on a free transfer from Hatayspor will also provide a unique profile in midfield for them.
Irfan Buz will not have an easy task it’s no wonder why he’s viewed as one of the likeliest managers to suffer an early dismissal, but he has the quality in his squad to at least solidify a midtable position. If he can’t put the pieces together, the tigers will have quite a long road ahead of them.
21 years after reaching the Turkish Cup Final, Antalyaspor reached the Final once again and although they were unable to overcome goals from Josef de Souza and Valentin Rosier, they left a positive impression against Beşiktaş. Ersun Yanal has helped modernize their project and take the oldest squad in the league to a team that’s filled with promising, young talent.
Mert Yilmaz (21) and Sherel Floranus (22) have joined from Bayern Munich and Heerenveen to replace the departing Nazim Sangaré, Omer Imeri (20), Gökdeniz Bayrakdar (18) and Dogukan Özkan (20) have joined, and 23-year-old American forward Haji Wright has arrived on loan. After struggling for minutes at Sporting under the shadow of Antonio Adán, Diogo Sousa (22) has also joined to provide competition in goal.
This change should see Analtyaspor become one of the most attractive teams to watch in the league, with their young arrivals joining up with their two brightest talents — Bünyamin Balci and Gökdeniz Bayrakdar — although a berth in European competition may be a few years away. Their goal must be focused in developing their young prospects and enjoying a more comfortable midtable finish than last year, and their squad and Yanal’s quality should see them do so.
They finished fifth on four occasions from 2005/06 to 2012/13 and even finished as co-winners of the 2006 Intertoto Cup, but this season will see them fight to stay up. Since returning to the top-flight in 2015, the club have finished in the bottom five on every occasion apart from 2017/18 and 2018/19 and they would have gone back down in 2019/20 were it not for relegation being put on hold in light of the pandemic.
Fighting relegation has become something that Kayserispor have become adjusted to over the years, a rare pattern given their economic power; they have talent, but this talent has never been fully exploited due to their various managers. Since October 2019, the club have gone through seven managers, and that number is set to grow after Yalçın Koşukavak was given his marching orders; Hikmet Karama will replace him.
The arrivals of Majid Hosseini and Lionel Carole will provide more guarantees in defense, whilst Carlos Mané should offer pace and trickery in attack after arriving from Rio Ave. There aren’t many clear-cut, smart signings to take away from their window, but Carole and Hosseini should have the experience and quality to improve their defense and allow them to avoid relegation and paddle against the current.
For the first time in over a decade, we will have the glorious ‘Izmir Derby’ in the Süper Lig as Altay prepare to host Göztepe on September 19. One of six non-champion clubs to have topped the league in the first half of the table, they returned to the top-flight after 18 long years with the legendary manager Mustafa Denizl in charge. Denizl is the sole manager that has won the league title with three clubs — Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Besiktas.
The 71-year-old began his playing career with Altay, winning two cup trophies in 1967 and 1980, becoming the top goalscorer in Izmir history, and two years after his last coaching spell in charge of Iranian side Tractor, he returns to the place where it all started. Altay have a veteran squad and some promising signings, but they will need Denizl to squeeze the most out of their limited resources if they want to have any chances of staying up.
The arrivals of Martin Rodríguez, star player from Chilean side Colo-Colo, and Daouda Bamba, who has grabbed 16 goals over the past two seasons for Norwegian side SK Brann, have heightened their fans’ excitement and completed a squad that already counted on Marco Paixão, top scorer of the Turkish second division over the past three years, Leonardo Kappel, and Deniz Kadah. They will struggle to stay up, but their experience and togetherness as a unit could be crucial in helping them pull off a miracle.
An incredible 44 years after their last spell, Giresunspor are miraculously back in the Süper Lig, shocking the nation and achieving automatic promotion last season. They will return to the top division with a rather weak squad, and apart from Esat Mala, who joins from Albanian side FK Partizani Tirana for a fee of $110,000, each of their signings have been loan moves or free transfers.
Alexis Pérez has arrived on a free from Lanús whilst others such as Joey Pelupessy, Douglas, Zeki Yavru and Souleymane Doukara have followed suit. The arrivals of Orkun Kocuk, Flávio and Fousseni Diabaté will give them a much-needed boost in firepower and others such as Emre Tasdemir, Younousse Sankharé and Cekdar Orhan will help raise the level of quality in their squad.
Their manager, Hakan Keleş, is far from tried and tested — his sole previous coaching spell saw him last just eight months in charge of Sivasspor. The signs are not promising, but they have nothing to lose and will relish the chance to play in the biggest stage of Turkish football again. There is no doubt that the Çotanak Stadyumu faithful will be doing everything they can to provide a ’12th man’ to their underdog squad.
Spending millions on declining, big-name stars is far from an unorthodox strategy in Turkey, but that hasn’t stopped Adana Demirspor from making headlines inside and outside the country. Having returned to the Süper Lig after a 26-year absence, the club have brought in Mario Balotelli, Britt Assombalonga, Younès Belhanda, Lucas Castro, Arijanet Muric, David Akintola, Metehan Mimaroglu, Birkir Bjarnason, Jonas Svensson and plenty more.
It is an attractive squad on paper, but it will nevertheless be a difficult task for Samet Aybab to control the dressing room and secure safety. They will be looking to become a regular fixture in the league rather than simply a one-hit-wonder, and hoping that the likes of Balotelli, Stambouli and Belhanda have one more rodeo left in them for what promises to be a crazy campaign.
By: Alejandro Parra / @AleParra_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Anadolu Agency / BSR Agency – Getty Images