League now a two-horse race

League now a two-horse race

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
League now a two-horse race

Forward Necati Ateş (R), who scored five goals in five matches at Galatasaray, proves to be one of the best signings of the mid-season transfer window. AA photo

It was supposed to be difficult, but Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe trounced their opponents over the weekend to turn the Spor Toto Super League title chase into a two-horse race.

Galatasaray won 4-0 at Sivasspor two days after Fenerbahçe’s 6-1 routing of Gençlerbirliği, meaning two Istanbul rivals extended their occupation of their top two spots. It also meant Sivasspor and Gençlerbirliği, both holding a rational chance of finishing in the top four, looked like staying far from championship playoff places.

The fact that Trabzonspor rallied to beat Beşiktaş 2-1 to take over the third spot made the gap between the first two and the third and fourth spots slightly bigger.

Make no mistake, with a sizable nine-point advantage over Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray is the runaway leader of the division. If not for the newly-implemented playoff round, Galatasaray would be on the verge of clinching their 18th league title. To make things sweeter, its derby at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on March 18 could have been a day when the team won the honors. However, it is now just a remarkable advantage, nothing more.

Coach Fatih Terim is aware that anything can happen even with five matches left in the regular season.
“We have an advantage in the regular season, which is only one leg in the season,” Terim said after the Sivasspor rout. It was still a highly gentlemanlike statement from Mr. Terim, a contrast to the club’s chairman Ünal Aysal’s statement about the playoffs. The chairman said “a rock fell to the club’s head.”

As direct as he is, Aysal is right. The playoffs are an invention of Mehmet Ali Aydınlar’s doomed spell as the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chairman. It was his administration’s solution to find a way to make the league worth watching after the match-fixing scandal tainted the pre-season.

“Nobody was talking about football and we decided it would be a solution to make people focus on football again,” Aydınlar said in a desperate attempt to justify his way.

The teams will carry half of their regular season points to the playoffs, meaning Galatasaray’s nine-point edge over Fener will be halved to 4.5 and will be rounded up to five.

The playoffs will mean even the fourth spot holder, who is Beşiktaş with a 17-point deficit currently, will have the chance to cut the gap during the six-week period.

Driver’s seat
However, judging by the current run of form, Galatasaray is likely to be in the driver’s seat while Fenerbahçe can be the only other realistic candidate with its home form.

Besides a brief four-match choked run, Galatasaray has been consistently devastating all season and is on a five-week winning run.

And a January addition should be mentioned here as well. Necati Ateş added two goals to make his tally five goals in five matches for Galatasaray. The journeyman proved to be lethal in his return to Galatasaray and his first of two goals against Sivasspor was especially a beauty. Even though Sivasspor coach Rıza Çalımbay played down the long-range strike and openly criticized his goalkeeper Stefan Senecky for “allowing” a goal, it was well worth the credit to the forward.

For Fenerbahçe, there was another man that has been shooting magnificent goals since the start of the season. Miroslav Stoch, a highly-criticized player that often lost his left-wing position to Senegalese teammate Issiar Dia last season, has been enjoying a major boost of form. Make a list of top 20 goals of the Spor Toto Super League season and you will have to place around five goals by the Slovakian player.

His opening goal against Gençlerbirliği deserves a mention. Taking the ball directly from the corner, Stoch struck the ball ruthlessly to the top corner, slightly reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane’s legendary 2002 Champions League final winner against Bayer Leverkusen.