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Turkish Football’s Big Three Were Knocked Off Their Perch Last Year: Are They Ready To Fight Back?

 

After Istanbul Başakşehir broke the hegemony of the ‘big three’ in Turkey with their Super Lig triumph last year, we analyse how Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray can fight back.

By: Cem Ak

If 2020 wasn’t weird enough for you, look at how the Turkish Süper Lig ended. In a season where the points difference between first and sixth was the lowest its been since 1994/95, Istanbul Başakşehir became the sixth champion of Turkey. In a league where the big three of Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray share 54 out of the available 61 titles, it was a shock.

However, by the time the 2019/20 season neared its conclusion, they were all well out of contention. In fact, all three of them almost finished outside the top three for the first time in Süper Lig history. Beşiktaş kept the record intact by stealing third spot from Sivasspor on the very last day of the season.

However, for the first time in their history, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe both finished outside the top four.

You need to go back to 1981 to find the last time that there were two consecutive seasons without Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray winning the title. History tells us that they always find a way back to the top. Can they do it again?

Beşiktaş

At the end of the 2016/17 season, Black Eagles fans were confident that they were amassing a juggernaut of a side, poised to extend their back-to-back title wins. They had a great shot at the three-peat and maybe more, but they lost the title in 2017/18 in the closing weeks.

In the last two seasons, the main concern for Beşiktaş has been the constant decline in their expected goal (xG) values. Since 2017/18, where they clocked up over 70 xG (a league record at the time), their attacking outputs have declined in consecutive seasons.

Beşiktaş Expected Goals (xG) Last Three Seaons

SeasonGoals ScoredExpected Goals (xG)xG Differential
2019/20205958.7-0.3
2018/20197263.6-8.4
2017/20186970.61.6

At the other end of the pitch, Beşiktaş found themselves very open against teams playing a direct style. They gave up the highest number of direct attacks in the 2019/20 season, a metric which can be used as a proxy for counter-attacks. This has to be the main focus for Sergen Yalçın next season: to stop opposition attacks in transition.

Direct Attacks Against - Turkish Super Lig 2019/20

TeamDirect Attacks Against
Beşiktaş81
Kasımpaşa78
Yeni Malatyaspor77
Başakşehir FK73
Kayserispor73

Speaking of Sergen Yalçın, optimism remains that he can lead the team back to former glory. Beşiktaş showed impressive progress after he took charge in February 2020, leading the league in various categories:

Fenerbahçe

Fenerbahçe are under more pressure than their rivals in this trio after failing to mount a serious title challenge in consecutive years. Fans have been waiting for a title since 2013/14 and after years of disappointment, Fenerbahçe are on the verge of their longest drought.

After cycling through numerous coaches since their last championship win (no manager has managed to stay more than one full season), Fenerbahçe are coming out of two disappointing seasons by their standards. Their defensive woes are easy to spot with the naked eye and the numbers back up these concerns. Since allowing only 25.6 expected goals against (xGA) in the 2015/16 season, it has all gone downhill for them:

Fenerbache - Expected Goals Against - Super Lig

SeasonShots AgainstxGA
2019/202034447.1
2018/201942543.9
2017/201835836.3
2016/201738034.3
2015/201628725.6

Last season, they managed to significantly lower their shots against number but saw an increase in the xGA value at the same time. Put simply, they were giving up fewer opportunities but the ones that they were giving up were far more dangerous. Finding a balance in that area will be key for them.

They’ll be hoping that new coach Erol Bulut and his brand-new cast of players will be the difference-maker. Fener had the joint-most high turnovers, defined as winning the ball back within 40m metres of the opposition’s goal, that ended with shots in the 2019/20 Süper Lig season tied with Alanyaspor. Only Alanyaspor produced goals from such turnovers:

It seems fitting then, that Alanyaspor were coached by none other than Erol Bulut. The Canaries must be looking forward to what he can add to what is already an apparent strength for them. It remains to be seen whether their aggressive approach in the transfer market will pay off. They’ve already added nine players to the first team and might have to live through some growing pains in the early stages.

Galatasaray

Going into 2019/20, Galatasary were two-time defending champions of Turkey. Like Beşiktaş in 2017/17, they missed their three-peat opportunity. Before the pandemic temporarily stopped player, Galatasaray were a serious title contender, lying just three points behind the leader. However, the hiatus had a disastrous effect on them and the Lions only managed six points in eight games after the season resumed.

Galatasaray were dominant in possession this season, but they failed to convert that possession into chances. Only Fenerbahçe (457) had a higher number of sequences with more than 10 passes than Galatasaray (431) this season. However, the Lions did not generate enough build-up attacks – essentially a sequence of 10 or more passes that ends in a shot or touch in the box –  and those long sequences rarely resulted in a good quality chance.

They’ll need to be much more efficient with the ball if they want to make a bid for the title this year.

10+ Pass Sequences Leading To A Shot or Touch In Box

Team10+ Pass SequencesBuild Up Attacks%
Rizespor2263214.1
Gençlerbirliği1742514.4
Denizlispor1652615.8
Konyaspor3706016.2
Galatasaray4317818.1

Along with their inefficient build-up player, Gala also had huge problems with conceding late goals. The Lions allowed 11 goals after the 85th minute this year, which was more than they allowed in the previous three seasons combined. Those 11 goals were equal to almost 30% of their total goals conceded, which was comfortably the highest proportion in the Super Lig.

Galatasaray dropped 12 points from winning positions last season and 10 of those points were lost in the last 5 minutes of games. They will need to ensure they maintain concentration for the full 90 minutes to avoid similar pitfalls this year.

Verdict

It goes without saying that all three of these sides are motivated to reclaim what they see is rightfully theirs, but each might be hindered by some shortcomings. The key will be answering these issues faster than anyone else. Opponents like Basaksehir and Trabzonspor will be looking to capitalise of any opportunity.

It certainly will not come easy to any of the big three, but history suggests they are not kept out of the limelight for long.


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