Turkish clubs start hunt for Europa League title
Akhisar qualified for its first European campaign, and an automatic place in the Europa League group stage, with a shock 3-2 win over Fenerbahçe in the 2018 Turkish Cup final. The club from the Aegean town of Akhisar finished 11th in the league – nine places and 30 points behind its illustrious Istanbul opponent.
Akhisarspor will be under care-taker coach Cem Kavçak in the game Group J game against its Russian opponent, after parting ways with coach Safet Susic at the start of this week. Susisc, who had been appointed in the summer replacing Turkish Cup-winning boss Okan Buruk, was fired after five winless league games, as the club sits at the bottom of the league standings with just two points.
Beşiktaş, which is in a European group stage for the fifth season in a row, starts the Group I competition at home against Norwegian club Sarpsborg, which is in its debut season in Europe.
Bidding for a hat-trick of Turkish titles, Beşiktaş could only finish fourth last season in the Turkish Super League, which earned the club a berth in the Europa League second qualifying round.
The team saw off B36, LASK and, in the playoffs, Partizan to reach the group stage, winning all three Istanbul encounters without conceding.
The Istanbul club’s only defeat in its last 16 European home matches, of which it won eight, came in last season’s Champions League round of 16 against Bayern Munich. It has its last seven at home in the Europa League, qualifying included.
Sarpsborg is one of four clubs that began their successful journey to the UEFA Europa League group stage in the first qualifying round, the others being Apollon Limassol, FC Kobenhavn and Rangers.
Fenerbahçe and Dinamo Zagreb both aim to get their European season back on track in the Europa League group stage in Group D after disappointment in the Champions League qualifying phase.
Fenerbahçe finished runner-up in the Turkish league last season, with archrival Galatasaray edging it out in the Super League.
The club opened this season’s European campaign with a Champions League third qualifying round defeat by Benfica (0-1 away, 1-1 home), which sent it directly into the UEFA Europa League group stage.
This is the Istanbul club’s fifth appearance at this stage of the competition and it has qualified for the knockout phase on each of the previous four occasions, most recently in the 2016-2017 season when it topped a group featuring eventual winner Manchester United. Fenerbahçe’s most successful campaign was in the 2012-2013 season, when it reached the semifinals.
Defeated in three of its last four European away fixtures, Fenerbahçe nevertheless has an exceptionally good record on the road in the Europa League group stage, with eight wins in 12 games and just one defeat : 4-1 at Manchester United two seasons ago.