Domènec Torrent’s Galatasaray side will welcome Barcelona to the Türk Telekom Arena on Thursday night looking to progress to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Having gone to the Camp Nou and avoided defeat last week, the Turkish giants head into Thursday’s second leg in good spirits. Level on aggregate, Galatasaray know a victory of any kind will see them advance to the last-eight of the Europa League for the first ever occasion.
Galatasaray will continually remain a threat to progress, as long as the live score is kept within touching distance. Ensuring they keep themselves in the tie for as long as possible will help Galatasaray in their bid to progress, during what promises to be a busy night of Europa League action.
Since the competition was renamed in 2009, Galatasaray are yet to progress past the round-of-32 stage, with Thursday’s second leg a chance to make history. However, despite their misfortunes in the rebranded Europa League, the Lions were successful in lifting the UEFA Cup all the way back in 1999/00.
Defeating Premier League side Arsenal during the final held in Copenhagen, a side managed by Fatih Terim defeated the Gunners 4-1 on penalties. It represented the first European trophy Galatasaray had ever won, and a UEFA Super Cup triumph in the following campaign added to their continental trophy haul.
Galatasaray in Europe this season
Legendary boss Terim had hoped to emulate the success this season, with the now 68-year-old leading the Lions to top spot in a hotly-contested Europa League group. Galatasaray saw off the likes of Lazio, Olympique Marseille and Lokomotiv Moscow to top Group E and secure a route into the Europa League knockouts.
Although excelling on the European stage, struggles for Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig saw manager Terim relieved of his duties in early January. As low as 12th when he was sacked, a run of just one win between November and January was not enough to keep Terim in a job.
After finishing the 2020/21 campaign as runners up to eventual champions Beşiktaş, there were hopes Galatasaray would mount a title challenge this season, in pursuit of a record-extending 23rd Süper Lig triumph. Whereas usually this would represent a huge failure for a club of Galatasaray’s side, the Lions are hoping to salvage their campaign by lifting the Europa League.
Due to the restructuring of the Europa League knockout system, Galatasaray immediately progressed to the round-of-16 as a result of topping the group, where they were paired with UEFA Champions League Barcelona. Comfortably the standout tie in the draw, the eyes of Europe were fixated on their first leg tie against the La Liga side.
Restricting their hosts to very few chances, Galatasaray were able to thwart the Barcelona attacks and escape the Camp Nou with a clean sheet. It represented another impressive evening’s work in Europe for the Lions, who are still yet to be beaten in this season’s Europa League. What’s more, it was Galatasaray’s third clean sheet in this year’s competition, having also kept a shutout during clashes against Lazio and Marseille.
Defensive stability is something Galatasaray have prided themselves on during this season’s Europa League campaign, with their tally of three goals conceded the lowest during the group stage. However, the goalless draw away to Barcelona did represent the first time in the competition that the Lions had registered back-to-back clean sheets, with boss Torrent no doubt keen to stretch that run to three matches this week.
Head to head
Buoyed by the confidence brought about by their draw in Spain last week, Galatasaray will enter the second leg against Barcelona eyeing up a shock result. If they are to pull it off, it will end a 28-year wait for a victory against the Blaugrana, having last beaten them in November 1994. That Champions League group stage victory remains Galatasaray’s only triumph over Barcelona, with the pair having met nine times since the early 1990s.
Whilst their head-to-head record against Barcelona may not inspire Galatasaray supporters, confidence can be taken from their opponents wretched record in Europe this season.
Having competed in the knockout stages of the Champions League for 17 consecutive seasons, Barcelona crashed out of Europe’s premier competition in humiliating fashion, finishing second in a group behind Bayern Munich and Benfica. It represented a low point in the season for the Blaugrana, who like their opponents on Thursday also changed manager midway through the campaign.
Struggling both domestically and in Europe, Ronald Koeman was sacked as manager of Barcelona in late October, before being replaced by club legend Xavi Hernández. Since taking up the role as boss, the 42-year-old has transformed the fortunes of his boyhood club, while returning a sense of pride to the Camp Nou.
Shell-shocked by the departure of Lionel Messi at the beginning of the season, the Blaugrana faithful were forced to endure a bumpy start to the campaign, with Barcelona dropping as low as ninth in the La Liga table. Since Xavi’s arrival, the 26-time Spanish champions have recovered their position and maintain realistic hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Part of their revival has been down to the business conducted in the January transfer window, with a number of star acquisitions providing much-needed quality to their squad. Both Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived from the Premier League, with the pair having contributed to a combined total of 13 goals so far.
While replacing the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi was always going to prove an impossible task, the arrival of attacking talent like Torres and Aubameyang has provided the Barcelona attack with a much-needed spark. What’s more, couple this with existing experienced heads like Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets and suddenly Barcelona appear a much-more balanced side.
It was their strength in depth that helped Barcelona progress to the Europa League round-of-16, having despatched of Napoli at the previous stage. Comfortable 5-3 winners across the two matches, a 4-2 win away at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in the second leg was enough to see the competition favourites advanced unhinged.
Team News – Barcelona
Looking to secure yet another away victory in the Europa League, Thursday’s trip to Istanbul could prove problematic for Barcelona, especially as they are set to be without a number of key players for the trip.
Their most notable omission is no doubt defender Pique, who had played over 40 matches for the Blaugrana so far this season. At 35-years-old, Pique has been forced to deal with more injuries in recent months, and the legendary centre-back is unlikely to return from a groin problem until April at the earliest. It presents a problem for boss Xavi, especially as his natural replacement in Samuel Umtiti is also suffering with an injury and is unlikely to be fit in time for the clash.
Ronald Araújo was the man chosen to partner Eric García in the first-leg, with the expectation that the two will once again retain their position at the heart of defence. Either side of the centre-backs, Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba are expected to operate from full-back, with the former having made his 100th appearance for Barcelona in European competitions during the 0-0 draw last week.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Ansu Fati’s absence had worried those inside the Barcelona camp, with the young forward having carried parts of their attack during the post-Messi period. The emergence of other offensive talents has eased the pressure on Fati, but the 19-year-old still faces a couple more weeks in the treatment room.
Elsewhere, Sergi Roberto is continuing his recovery from a tendon injury, whereas Álex Balde (ankle) and Abde Ezzalzouli (knee) are also missing for the visitors.
Expect both Torres and Aubameyang to retain their positions in the Barcelona attack, with either Adama Traoré or Ousmane Dembélé operating alongside them. Both Pedri and Frenkie de Jong will feature in midfield for Xavi’s men, with Nico González expected to make up the final part of that trio.
Team News – Galatasaray
Unlike their visitors, Galatasaray boast close to a full squad for Thursday’s clash, with the only notable absentee for the home side being Mbaye Diagne. The forward has struggled for appearances so far this season and is currently out injured suffering with a hip problem.
Muhammed Kerem Aktürkoğlu has been a standout performer for the Lions in recent weeks, and the 23-year-old’s stock rose even more at the weekend, when he netted a brace against reigning champions Beşiktaş. Scoring both of Galatasaray’s goals in the 2-1 victory, expect Aktürkoğlu to operate off the left-hand side of attack, with Ryan Babel on the opposite flank.
Leading the line for the home side will likely be Mostafa Mohamed, who has struggled in front of goal lately, netting just once since the end of December. A hard-working and dominative striker, the 24-year-old will hope Sofiane Feghouli is able to provide service from behind.
Both Berkan Kutlu and Taylan Antalyalı will be tasked with breaking up play in midfield for Galatasaray, with a centre-back partnership of Marcão and Victor Nelsson anchoring the Lions’ backline.
However, undoubtedly star of the show from the first leg, Iñaki Peña will be looking to back up his impressive display in the Camp Nou with another fine performance. On loan from Barcelona, Peña sent a statement to his parent club by picking up a deserved man of the match award. The 23-year-old shot-stopper will retain his place between the sticks, as he targets yet another clean sheet against the Blaugrana.
For Galatasaray, Thursday’s clash offers a real chance for them to make amends after what has been a below-par domestic campaign. Languishing down in 11th, the chance of securing European qualification via their league position seems unlikely, with the Lions’ only route to continental competition likely to come through winning the Europa League.
It’s been 22 years since Galatasaray last lifted a European trophy, but they begin their second leg against Barcelona as rank outsiders to progress. What’s more, they have only advanced once from a two-legged tie against Spanish opposition in Europe, further weakening their prospects against Barcelona.
However, Galatasaray’s performances in Europe have been in sharp contrast to their exploits in the league, and the Lions will hope to extend their current run of seven games in this season’s Europa League without suffering a defeat.
Aiming to do what Lazio, Marseille and Lokomotiv Moscow failed to do, a resurgent Barcelona will travel to Istanbul confident of a second-leg victory. Tipped to go all the way and lift the trophy in Seville, Xavi’s free-scoring Blaugrana outfit are set to pose a threat to Galatasaray’s inconsistent, and often shaky backline.
While their record of three wins and three losses in Turkey leaves a little to be desired, Barcelona will take confidence from their almost flawless head-to-head record against the Lions. Additionally, the La Liga side have never been beaten by Turkish opposition across a two-legged knockout tie, progressing 7-3 on aggregate against Trabzonspor in the 1990/91 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round.