Başakşehir in big test in title race
ISTANBULSuper Toto Super League leader Medipol Başakşehir, a giant killer turned title contender, is set to pay a crucial – if not historic – visit to Fenerbahçe on Jan. 22.
Başakşehir tops the standings with 39 points from 17 weeks so far and is the sole unbeaten team in the league.
However, coach Abdullah Avcı still avoids speaking of a title challenge and remains cautious.
“The first 17 weeks were great for us. We want to continue where we left off. We will play against the league’s most valuable, high-quality team. They may be experiencing some fluctuations, but that does not mean that Fenerbahçe is not a good team. A good match is waiting for us,” Avcı told the press on Jan. 20.
“We worked on when to push the pressure, when to wait, when to switch. We will see how these scenarios play out on the stage.”
Avcı also said media reports that suggested the match was Fenerbahçe’s last chance to maintain a title challenge was false, given that it is “a big team.”
Nonetheless, Avcı admitted that the rivals – seven points behind – had been hit by recent reverses.
“We don’t have any weight and have the power to play,” he added.
Fenerbahçe coach Dick Advocaat will find an even stronger Başakşehir, which has made a big surprise this season with its sustainability, after it signed Schalke 04 defender Junior Caiçara and FC Wil defender Egemen Korkmaz during the winter transfer window.
It also shook hands with Gençlerbirliği midfielder İrfan Can Kahveci, who will miss the game due to suspension.
Başakşehir was the leader before the winter break, which came one week before the start of the second half of the season, and made a sparkling start to the second half, beating Kayserispor 5-0 at home on Jan. 15.
Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, drew 2-2 with bottom-dwelling Adanaspor the same day. On Jan. 19, Fener drew by the same score against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Cup game, as it continued to flatter to deceive.
Commenting on the upcoming Başakşehir game, Advocaat expressed his confidence in his team.
“Our rival has achieved a very good balance. I respect them, but we are capable of beating them,” he said. “We have talented players.”
The 18th week starts with the Akhisar Belediye-Kayserispor, Atiker Konyaspor-Çaykur Rizespor games.
Third-place Galatasaray, which is two points behind the leader, will visit Kardemir Karabükspor as Advocaat’s compatriot, Galatasaray coach Jan Olde Reikerink, is looking for a win to increase pressure on his rivals before an Istanbul derby against Fenerbahçe.
On Jan. 22, Osmanlıspor will take on Antalyaspor while Kasımpaşa will play Black Sea giant Trabzonspor.
In the closing game of the week on Jan. 23, second-place Beşiktaş, on 38 points, will visit Aytemiz Alanyaspor, knowing that a win would put it top of the table if Başakşehir suffers any slip-up against Fener.
Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, meanwhile, have been paired in the second round of the Ziraat Turkey Cup after the black-and-white team clinched top spot in Group D while Fener was consigned to second in Group C.
The historic rivals will play a knock-out game in early February in Beşiktaş’s Vodafone Arena.