TALKING TO: KAAN BAYAZIT ON THE UPCOMING TURKISH SÜPER LIG SEASON

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This piece is part of a preview series where we speak to journalists covering Europe’s top leagues. In this edition, we speak to Turkish football expert Kaan Bayazit, host of the Black Eagles Podcast, on all everything about the upcoming Turkish Süper Lig season.

Title winners and Champions League qualifiers

Galatasaray won their 21st Championship in this past season with a four-point lead on reigning champions Beşiktaş (who finished in fourth place. Eternal rivals Fenerbahçe finished in second place and secured their spot in the third round of Champions League qualifiers (in which they face Benfica).

Both Galatasaray and second-placed Fenerbahçe capitalized on their early elimination from the Europa League qualifiers by low-key opponents Östersunds (Sweden) and Vardar (Macedonia) respectively. While both third-placed Başakşehir and fourth-placed Beşiktaş played the Europa League and Champions League group stages respectively.


Best player and Golden Boot winner:

Galatasaray’s defensive midfielder Fernando, formerly of Manchester City, was awarded the Player of the Season title last season. Despite missing several games due to injury, he was instrumental in his team’s title challenge and subsequent victory by seamlessly connecting Galatasaray’s defense to their attack.

While Fernando may have come away with the honours of calling himself Player of the Season, without French striker Bafétimbi Gomis, who scored 29 league goals (an all-time record for a foreign player) that surely would’ve been different. While Gomis failed to score against either Fenerbahçe or Besiktas, he won Galatasaray countless points in the lesser games which ultimately saw them lift the trophy.


Best players under the age of 23 to watch out for and those who could have a breakout campaign:

Abdülkadir Ömür (19) of Trabzonspor had shown glimpses of his talent in the 2016/17 season. But he really established himself as an upper echelon talent during this past season. The young attacking midfielder, who can also play on the wings, showed his incredible technical talent, quick feet and signs of early maturity. He is definitely one to watch and is already being tracked by the likes of Benfica.

Yusuf Yazıcı (21), another Trabzonspor player, but someone who cannot be ignored. Like Ömür, Yazıcı had already shown his ability in the previous season but this past season was really his breakout. With 10 goals in 33 matches the young playmaker, who is also a set-piece specialist, proved that he could repeatedly deliver.

Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan (23) of Kasımpaşa has been one of the breakout stars of this past season. Having flopped at Belgium’s Anderlecht, he was brought in on loan initially by Kasımpaşa but has quickly established himself as one of the better wingers in the league. With an impressive 13 goals in 31 games (including some beauties from outside the box) the Egyptian made an immediate impact and impressed many with his blistering speed and solid footwork. Kasımpaşa promptly used their option to buy him for €1.8 million.


Best signing

Current window: There really hasn’t been a major signing yet that jumps out, the big clubs are still holding off as they are all under a Financial Fair Play settlement. Thus far, you could point to the loan deals of André Ayew (Fenerbahçe) or Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray). But the real game-changers are probably yet to come. I expect more movement once the Premier League window has closed and prices go down. However, both Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray will need to sell players before bringing in any players on a permanent basis.

Otherwise there have been several “good moves” have been made by the promoted teams, but nothing major has been completed as of yet.

Last season: While Fernando may have won the Player of the Year honour, one can’t discard Bafétimbi Gomis’ direct impact to Galatasaray’s success. Without Gomis’ 29 goals there is no way that the Lions would have won their 21st title. His goals were simply too important which without they simply wouldn’t have made it across the finish line. Not to mention that he was one of Galatasaray’s cheapest summer acquisitions at just €2.1 million.


Relegation battlers:

Antalyaspor: They shocked the world by bringing in Samuel Eto’o three years ago but those heavy investments are starting to catch up with them as the club have been severely struggling to pay their players on time. In addition to that, many of their more prominent signings of the past year such as Eto’o, Nasri, Djourou and others have now left the club.

BB Erzurumspor: Achieving promotion through the play-offs, as it currently stands, Erzurumspor simply seem to not have enough quality to stay up this season. While they brought in a few experienced Süper Lig players such as Egemen Korkmaz and Özer Hurmaci, they seemingly still lack enough raw talent and will almost certainly struggle this season.

Yeni Malatyaspor: Despite having some exciting players on their team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Malatyaspor struggle and go through a traditional “second-season stumble” in the Süper Lig.

Ankaragücü: This might be a bit of a controversial pick, as Ankaragücü have brought in several great players this transfer window. But at the same time the only remaining club from the capital have had a poor pre-season preparation as they saw most of their friendly matches cancelled. With less than a week to go until their season opener against reigning champions Galatasaray, they’ve just played one friendly match all summer (with their second against Bursaspor scheduled later this week). In addition to that, their coach İsmail Kartal, is a bit of a mystery, not in regards to his ability but in regards to why he ever got his job in the first place.

He has repeatedly proven his incompetence as a coach and even managed to nearly miss out on promotion with Ankaragücü last season despite having a vastly superior squad to almost all other second division teams (bar Rizespor). Poor preparation and an incompetent coach may prove to be too much to overcome. But despite facing both Galatasaray and Trabzonspor in the opening weeks, they also face Antalyaspor and Erzurumspor early on, two matches they need to win and if they do they could be in for a decent season regardless of what I just said. They’re certainly not my favourites for relegation, but I could see them struggle if they fail to beat Antalyaspor & Erzurumspor in the early days of the competition.


Possible overachievers and underachievers:

Overachievers: Çayku Rizespor – Newly promoted but Rizespor have made some great moves on the transfer market thus far. They also have a great young coach in Ibrahim Üzülmez while having kept together most of their best players from their previous Süper Lig stint, forward Leonard Kweuke, in particular. By no means am I expecting a run for Europe out of them, but I certainly don’t expect them to struggle. They could pull off some upset victories over the title favourites, especially at home.

Underachivers: Trabzonspor – Despite being seen as a “traditional big four club”, Trabzonspor have struggled for many years to make good on their name. Expectations are high again every season. But unfortunately for them, stability is simply not something that comes naturally to the club in recent years. And despite having exciting talents such as Yusuf Yazıcı and Abdülkadir Ömür, they simply don’t seem capable of a consistent run for a European spot.


Possible managerial revelations:

Çaykur Rizespor’s Ibrahim Üzülmez has previously shown some great things at Gençlerbirligi, but with a decent quality side at his disposal now he’s certainly on the top of my list of men to watch. Unlike most Turkish coaches, he isn’t a de facto pragmatist and I expect he will have his team playing some attractive free-flowing football.

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