Familiar Faces & A Winning Attitude
This year’s top-scorer in the competition is not only Cristiano Ronaldo but Burak Yılmaz – tied on 8 goals. This striker arrived only last summer from Trabzonspor, but is already being courted by some big clubs, and with good reason. At 27 he's no ingénue either.
Another new signing came from Madrid this year. It’s national Team Captain Hamit Altintop who has the experience of playing in a Champions League final and for Europe’s biggest clubs and was 2010 winner of the Puskas award for a truly amazing goal. He doesn’t score often, but when he does it is usually a loping, curling screamer from 30-40 yards out.
And when Mourinho visited Turkey to scout the opposition, it was a reunion for him with Didier Drogba (winner of the Champions League last year with Chelsea) and Wesley Sneijder (winner in 2010 with Inter, formerly of Real Madrid).
There’s not much one can say about Didier Drogba. Legend is a good word. Sneijder, on his day, is one of the world’s most inventive playmakers.
These are the most famous and familiar of the group, and some of the more recent signings. There are others – Emmanuel Eboue formerly of Arsenal, Felipe Melo of Juventus, Albert Riera of Liverpool and Fernando Muslera of Lazio.
Like their chart-topping striker, this is no team of inexperienced or wide-eyed, fresh-faced innocents. They have played for huge clubs and in Champions League finals and semi-finals. They have winners of the trophy on their team.
The man pulling all these signings together is Fatih Terim, who arrived back in Istanbul in 2011 with Galatasaray languishing mid-table and their greatest rivals, Fenerbahçe lording it up top of the Super Liga. Eight straight wins later and it was Galatasaray who were top. They were to win the league with a 9 point cushion.
It was Terim’s third tenure with the club. All have been wildly successful. He has also coached in Italy.
He is an outstanding man-manager, pulling together a varied and, in places, expensive and newly assembled squad.
Like so many of Europe’s managers, he is on very friendly terms with Mourinho. A pair of winners, they probably have a lot in common.
Welcome to hell, otherwise known as the Türk Telekom Arena
Welcome, as it happens to a record-breaking facility too. On March 18, 2011, the crowd gave off a roar registering 131.76 decibels, a noise so profoundly loud it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as "loudest Stadium roar."
At the time, the stadium was two months old. Two years later it remains a beautiful, clean, new venue that has won various awards for design.
As for the fans providing the ambience: there will be some limits on what mischief they can get up to under UEFA’s rules – the flares that make the stadium look like something out of Dante’s inferno will be banned - but these are not football fans who seem particularly impressed by rules to begin with. Back in Germany, Schalke 04 confirmed, after their home tie in the last 16, that away fans had been caught tunnelling into the Veltins arena – such was their enthusiasm for seeing their team.
Those were only a few love-struck fans. Expect many tens of thousands more in Istanbul. 52,000 to be precise.
Reports of all this enthusiasm have fired up Marca, who composed a piece entitled "The Bernabéu: We Can Do Hell Too."
Against Schalke in the last sixteen, Galatasaray’s winning goal in the Veltins Arena was a bit of a fluke. A long ball and a break. Their opener was one of Altintop’s screamers. But they were away from home and they controlled the match for long stretches. It was also a little uncharacteristic. Galatasaray are no kick and rush team. They enjoy keeping the ball and passing it along the floor.
To expand on the dynamics of that game: their winner came late, and Schalke had opened the scoring in their own stadium. Schalke also had had the advantage of the away goal in the reverse fixture.
The match, as it played out, showed Galatasaray as a team of experienced, calm, unimpressionable individuals who played until the final minute of the match and didn’t allow an away goal to the opposition, or a sudden disadvantage to impress them. They looked, from start to finish, like a team that knew it could still win. In sum: a team that is not easily disheartened.
Interestingly, Galatasaray also played far better away from home than they had in a rather boring, timid match in Istanbul. As with many experienced players, the venue had little influence on their game. They also had dynamics on their side. Schalke did open the scoring, but two strikes within 5 minutes and it was Galatasaray going into the break with a 1-2 advantage.
For all that, this team has weaknesses like any other. Their defence is not particularly good, with Eboue something of a liability at fullback. They have Felipe Melo screening their back four, still a good player but far from his prime. Altintop is always good for a defensive shift up and down the right too. And although they did control the match for periods of time, Schalke were probably still the better team on the night and were very unlucky in front of goal.
The keeper Fernando Muslera is always a puzzle too. Vastly experienced, he can have games that vary from one extreme to another – world class or league two depending on his mood.
Wesley Sneijder presents his own difficulties. Like any manager, Terim has to balance tactical demands with the use of the stars his club have bought him. Sneijder is still a major star, and although he has been playing very well recently – looking very much like the Sneijder we all knew at Madrid for his first season and for Inter – there is some confusion over where to put him. For the moment the team plays a midfield diamond – 4-3-1-2 – to be certain they can use him.
This gives Mourinho plenty to think about regarding how far to press up the pitch, where he imagines space will be to control the game, and how he can control Galatasaray’s irrepressible forwards.
Because in the main, Galatasaray is a top-heavy team, with Didier Drogba and Yılmaz up front together. In January they initially struggled to find a rhythm. Terim’s patience has paid off and those problems have mainly disappeared. So have Drogba’s initial fitness issues. His coach has said he is training like the best of them and only last year he was still the player who almost single-handedly dragged his unfavoured team to the final and won it for them.
They have Champions League winners, they have experience, they have talented players, the competition’s leading goal-scorer and a hellish stadium on their side. Madrid fans writing off Galatasaray do so at their peril.
This week their coach said he was "unafraid" of Real Madrid.
We believe him.
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