Besiktas take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League Last 16 first-leg in Germany as underdogs.
The Black Eagles have fared rather well as underdogs. The immediate reaction after getting drawn into a group including Porto, Monaco and Red Bull Leipzig as a Pot 4 side was one of dismay. Most pundits would have took third-place as an achievement.
Much to most folks surprise the reigning Super Lig champions became the first Turkish side to finish the group stage as undefeated leaders.
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It is worth underlining that Bayern are a superior side to the teams Besiktas faced in the group stage but among their opponents was Leipzig.
The ease with which the Istanbul giants beat the Bundesliga outfit home and away – fielding a second string team – may make Bayern take the tie more seriously.
The Bundesliga leaders have won their last 13 games. In fact the league is all but over. Could this be a blessing in disguise for Besiktas?
Bayern have been coasting. The coaches and players will obviously say they treat every game seriously but is it really possible to have the same focus knowing second-placed Borussia Dortmund are a whopping 19 points behind.
The Germans are of course top by merit but it is worth asking if the Bayern players are really up for this. How prepared are they? will they have the same intensity? will they be able to raise their game after weeks of easy riding?
Besiktas will be hoping Bayern underestimate them. The rest of Group G did not take them seriously and that worked in the Eagles favor.
Senol Gunes will be without long-term absentees Veli Kavlak, Atinc Nukan and Gokhan Tore.
The only regular first-team player they will miss is Dusko Tosic – who himself has recently falled behind Vida in the pecking order.
Gunes will be relying on his more experienced members to provide guidance. Bayern will not phase the likes of Pepe, Ricardo Quaresma and Ryan Babel. They are used to playing big team on big stages.
We are almost certain to see Pepe start at centre-back, he could be joined by Vida or Gary Medel. Adriano and Gokhan Gonul are likely to get the nod as full-backs.
In central midfield the manager faces a tough decision over whether to start Oguzhan Ozyakup or Tolgay Arslan alongside Atiba Hutchinson. An alternate scenario could see Medel and Atiba start which would offer more defensive cover. But Gunes does not really do defence. I do not expect him to be cautious and sit back. It is not in this teams DNA to try and park the bus. To be honest trying to sit back would probably be suicide anyway.
The biggest strength Besiktas have is going forward. Quaresma and Babel are likely to start on the flanks. Anderson Talisca usually starts as a No 10 but Gunes has been trying him out as a forward in the lead up to the game so there may end up being a surprise up front.
The 1.91m tall Brazilian has been in stellar form in 2018 and already has four goals in the competition.
Upfront Gunes will start Alvaro Negredo, Wagner Love or play his joker and give Talisca the nod. In which case we would see either Ozyakup or Arslan in an attacking midfield roll.
Bayern will have to keep a close eye on Quaresma and Talisca. Two players capable of pulling a rabbit out the hat. Given space they will punish any side. Both players have a box of tricks and are lethal from range.
Besiktas may surprise many unfamiliar onlookers with their approach. Expect the Eagles to play attacking football and shock Bayern. Gunes will want an away goal. They may just get one but the big question is how will their defence hold up. Bayern are the clear favorites but so were Porto, Monaco and Red Bull. There may just be another trick up Gunes’ sleeve.
Bayern Munich vs Besiktas – Probable Lineups
Bayern Munich: Ulreich; Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba; Vidal, Müller, James; Coman, Robben, Lewandowski
Out: Neuer (foot)
Misses next match if booked: Kimmich, Rudy, Tolisso
Added to squad since group stage: Neuer, Wagner, Wriedt
Beşiktaş: Fabri; Gökhan Gönül, Pepe, Vida, Adriano; Hutchinson, Medel, Quaresma, Talisca, Babel; Vágner Love
Out: Kavlak (shoulder), Atınç (knee), Gökhan Töre (knee), Tošić (arm)
Misses next match if booked: Tolgay Arslan, Caner Erkin, Talisca
Added to squad since group stage: Larin, Vágner Love, Vida