With just three points separating the top-four it is easy to see why the Turkish Super Lig is currently considered the most exciting title race in Europe, perhaps in the world.
Galatasaray are first, reigning champions Besiktas are tied with Basaksehir just one point behind the Lions and Fenerbahce are fourth.
The four-horse race, coincidently has four games remaining.
It could well be the case that by the time the derby kicks-off, Galatasaray and Besiktas find themselves in third and fourth place, respectively. That all depends on whether Basaksehir and Fenerbahce win their games first.
The Black Eagles are the rising power in Turkish football. The Istanbul giants have lifted the league title for the past two seasons and became the first Super Lig side to cruise through the Champions League group stage undefeated to finish as leaders. Besiktas have also been working on developing themselves as a brand abroad. Becoming the first side in Turkey to play a friendly game in China.
Besiktas have only won the league title three times in a row once before. It may be premature to call this a golden era just yet but another league title would make it difficult to argue against.
The Emperor Strikes Back
Galatasaray meanwhile are intent on ruining the party. The Lions have had a turbulent season, sacking Igor Tudor and bringing in Fatih Terim after a kebab-war debacle got him fired as Turkey national team manager.
Last July Terim hit the headlines after a surreal restaurant incident. A partition that divided a steakhouse owned by Terim’s son-in-law Ahmet Baran Cetin, and a kebab shop owned by Selahattin Aydogdu, a Turkish football association director, resulted in major beef.
An argument over the phone escalated into Terim driving 200 miles with ‘the boys’ to Alacati to settle the row with a good old fashioned punch up. It will probably make a memorable scene when they make Terim’s film one day but the Turkish Football Federation had enough with his antics.
Anyway, five months later the Emperor returned to the empire of Galatasaray.
Terim has been busy skewering all who stand in his way in the league but his sides cutting edge has been looking a tad blunt recently.
Galatasaray have actually lost more games than any other side in the top four (7). They have won just two of their last six away games. Where they have dominated has been at home. The Lions have 14 victories and just a single draw at the Turk Telekom. And that is where the derby will be played.
It would not be fair to say Galatasaray have not been displaying their best football of late. Last week they managed to blow a two-goal lead against Alanyaspor, almost drawing to the relegation battlers before Sinan Gumus saved the day. Just a few days prior, they were dumped out of the Turkish Cup against Akhisar, albeit playing a heavily rotated side.
Cracks are appearing to show. Terim has been struggling to get the best out of his side of late. One thing the manager known as the ‘Emperor’ is renowned for is getting a rise from his team in big games. The experienced head coach is a master motivator. What he lacks at times tactically he makes up with an amazing ability to read the psychological side of the game. Expect plenty of theatrics and gestures to the fans, getting the 12th man involved. Terim will want to create a raucous atmosphere, an unbearable caldron of raw human emotion. Expect to have your eardrums burst.
Terim does have the in-form Bafetimbi Gomis who has 30 goals this season available.
The Lions boss continues to show faith in Belhanda much to the dismay of the fans. Feghouli has not been at his best recently either but is likely to start. Gary Rodriguez has been fairly better. Sinan Gumus has done well when given a chance but has struggled to break into the first team. Terim is notorious for having favorites and Mr Gumus simply is not one of them right now.
Fernando and Ryan Donk are the backbone of the side, keeping everything ticking over. They will have to be at their best to prevent Besiktas overrunning the midfield and Anderson Talisca getting into space.
The Phiolosopher – Şenol Güneş
Besiktas, on the other hand, have been moving through the gears just at the right time. The Eagles have won their last four games scoring 12 times and conceding just twice. I have always said that when the Black-Whites are playing to their potential they really are the team to beat. At their best, Besiktas are the most dangerous side in the league.
Senol Gunes is something of a footballing renaissance man. Getting the best out of Ricardo Quaresma and Ryan Babel at a stage when many thought their careers were over is no small feat. The Portuguese star is capable of brilliance and madness. He could just as easily scored a worldie as get himself sent off for elbowing someone in the face. Babel meanwhile has three goals in his last three games, being awarded man of the match in two of them.
Talisca is another dangerman. The Brazil international has 19 goals and five assists this season. If Galatasaray give him space he has all the tools in his arsenal to inflict punishment.
The main problem Besiktas have is upfront. They simply have not been able to replace Cenk Tosun. Negredo is decent at hold up play but is rarely where you want a striker to be. Vagner Love meanwhile has not really got going.
Besiktas have an attacking minded style, a key component of Gunes’ footballing philosophy. The Black Eagles play attractive, fast-paced, technical football.
Defence was never a strong point but has improved with Vida and Pepe striking up a partnership. Besiktas are actually lucky to have Pepe back after the Turkish Football Federation gave a lenient one-match ban for his red card against Fenerbahce.
Yes there was, of course, that bizarre derby game in the Turkish Cup last week. In a rather shocking turn of events, Gunes ended up in hospital after an object was thrown from a Fenerbahce fan and hit on the head. Five stitches and a mild concussion later the game was abandoned.
Besiktas expected an automatic 3-0 victory to be awarded to them. The TFF decided they would try to please everyone by giving Pepe a reduced suspension, giving Fenerbahce just a three-match stadium ban and resuming the game from the point it was abandoned.
The Eagles rejected the decision and will boycott the game as they are of the opinion that justice hasn’t been served. As a result they will forfeit the tie and Fenerbahce will progress to the final.
Galatasaray and Besiktas both tend to play a 4-2-3-1 setup. The Lions play a more physical brand of football in a bid to overpower their opponents into submission. The Black Eagles meanwhile play a more technical style and are the more settled side. Most of this side have been involved in lifting the league title for the past two seasons. This is a collective of winners who know how to get the job done.
The key matchups will be whether Donk and Fernando can keep Talisca at bay. Whether the Lions full-backs will have their hands tied up against Quaresma and Babel. Besiktas meanwhile will have to contend with the raw strength and speed of Gomis. The type of player they have struggled to deal with this season.
What is on the line
The cup is however, merely a sideshow. The real prize is the league title or at the least a second-placed finish. The Champions League revenues are simply too much to miss out on at the expense of the cup.
What the derby debacle has done is unite Besiktas fans behind the team, manager and board. The club president has established himself as a hero of the fans. A defender again injustice. Regardless of whether you agree or not, it has created a real show of solidarity.
The derby sees the clash of the Titans. Terim take on Gunes. The two most successful and influential managers in Turkish footballing history go head to head in a derby that could end up deciding the league.
Galatasaray have been brilliant at home but have shown signs they are starting to wobble. Besiktas meanwhile are in red-hot form, playing aesthetically pleasing football but as is so often the case in derby matches, game psychology plays a huge role. It is difficult to separate these sides. What I do envision is goals. Plenty of goals. When these sides meet there is usually always fireworks.
Prediction: Over 2.5 Goals