League title hopefuls set for crucial weekend
Özgür Korkmaz - ISTANBUL
Trabzonspor players are seen during a training session ahead of a Turkish Süper Lig game against Beşiktaş. Trabzonspor leads the league with 44 points. (İHA Photo)
The race for the Turkish Süper Lig trophy enters a crucial weekend as four title hopefuls prepare to clash each other.
Trabzonspor, sitting atop the standings with a game in hand, visits Beşiktaş on Feb. 22, while archrivals Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray clash in a derby game on Istanbul’s Asian side on Feb. 23.
Trabzonspor is on a six-game winning streak in the league, including a 2-1 victory over Sivasspor on Feb. 16, and has won nine of its last 11 games to lead the league with 44 points.
Beşiktaş, on the other hand, has failed to end its slump despite replacing coach Abdullah Avcı with its former star midfielder Serge Yalçın. The team won its first two games under Yalçın, however, the team dropped to seventh place with a 1-0 loss at Başakşehir on Feb. 14.
Yalçın is keen to win the home game against Trabzonspor. In a meeting with his players following the Başakşehir loss, Yalçın reportedly said the team’s two upcoming games, against Trabzonspor and Alanyaspor, were key to remain in the tile race.
“The Başakşehir game is over,” the coach told his players according to reports in the Turkish media.
“We may seem to have remained behind for now, but that is not the real case. If we win the Trabzonspor and Alanyaspor games, there will not be much gap between us and the leader. A series of wins will put us back on track for the trophy.”
On Feb. 23, Galatasaray will try to beat the odds and end a jinx as it seeks its first away win against Fenerbahçe in over two decades.
Since a 2-1 victory in December 1999, the defending champion has lost 23 official games it has played at Ülker Stadium, managing to grab only eight draws. In those games, the home side scored 44 goals, while conceding just 15.
The 2002-2003 football season saw an extravagant home victory for Fenerbahçe as it thrashed Galatasaray 6-0 at Kadiköy on Nov. 6, 2002, a match that Galatasaray has yet to forget.
But off-pitch issues mar the derby game once again, with Fenerbahçe chair Ali Koç complaining about “systematic targeting” of his team by referees, arguing that Fenerbahçe has been a constant victim of officiating mistakes.
Galatasaray chairman Mustafa Cengiz also got involved in the debate, accusing Koç of “trying to manipulate” the referees “to gain advantage in the derby game.”
Recent derbies between Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray have all been played in tense situations, with the tensions taking their toll on the quality of football on the pitch: Three of the last five games between the two sides ended in goalless draws.
Elsewhere in Turkish Süper Lig Week 23 games, bottom side Kayserispor continues its tough fight against relegation with a home game against Konyaspor on Feb .22 and Göztepe hosts Gaziantep in a mid-table game.
On Feb. 23, Gençlerbirliği and Ankaragücü clash in an Ankara derby, while Antalyaspor visits Malatyaspor.
Second-placed Başakşehir travels to Rizespor and struggling Kasımpaşa hosts Denizlispor on Feb. 24.
Sivasspor, which lost the league lead last weekend, was to play fifth-placed Alanyaspor late on Feb. 21 in the week’s opening game.