Europa League preview: Barça-Galatasaray

Life can be confusing sometimes, especially when what you think you know turns out to be ridiculously wrong. As recently as 2 weeks ago I was operating on the assumption that Galatasary, Turkish league winners in 5 of the last 11 seasons and runners-up twice in the 6 years they didn’t win it, including last year, were good. This is something that Barça fans might have some recent experience with given the dramatic fall from grace that the team suffered, especially during the [redacted for mental health concerns] against Bayern Munich, but this for Galatasary seems altogether something else.

I’m not an expert on Turkish football, but the stats are currently damning: domestically, Galatasary has managed just 35 points, scoring 37 and allowing 41 goals, leaving them in 12th place in the Süper Lig after 28 matches. They’re 32 points off of 1st and 12 out of a Europa Conference League spot. I have no idea if they’ve been further down in the standings this late in the season, but a glance at their history suggests that if the season were to end right now, 12th would be the worst finish in the club’s history. Previously, they ended up in 11th at the end of the 1981-82 season. Besiktas won the title on that occasion, but this season they’re in 7th, 10 points ahead of Galatasaray. Fenerbache are in 4th, 20 points off the top. Trabzonspor, who haven’t won since 1983–84, are in first.

But listen, here are some of the players currently in Galatasaray’s squad: Fernando Muslera (35), Ryan Babel (35), Sofiane Feghouli (32), Patrick van Aanholt (31), Bafetimbi Gomis (36). What a list of players! You could be forgiven for hanging the bad run of form on their shoulders, although only van Aanholt and Gomis started against 2nd place Konyaspor this past Saturday, although Babel did come off the bench. And there’s another old head worth mentioning as well: Galatasaray vice captain, former Barça player, and famous shoe thrower Arda Turan.

Muslera, you’ll note, neither started nor came off the bench on Saturday. He’s been at the club since 2011, appearing at least 412 times for the club in all competitions. Has it only been 11 years? It feels like he’s been there forever. He seems to have been injured, which is why I assume Galatasaray went and took Barça B keeper and ñ-hoarder Iñaki Peña on loan in January. I have no idea who will start tomorrow in goal, but it would be interesting for Iñaki to play in the Camp Nou for the first time while decked out in visitor’s colors.

Fatih Terim, then. The guy is a legend. The last time Barcelona hosted Galatasaray in a European competition was in November 2002 in Fatih Terim’s first year as manager of Galatasaray. He has since bounced back and forth between the Turkish national team and Galatasaray and right now is a bounce where he’s found himself not on the bench. He was recently replaced by former Barça assistant (among many other things) Domènec Torrent. Now, Fatih Terim did one really interesting thing this year: he got a struggling Galatasary to finish first in the Europa League group, topping Lazio, Marseille, and Lokomotiv Moscow with a record of 3 wins and 3 draws, 7 goals for and 3 goals against. Okay, then.

Short term, though, we’re looking at a team that has gone 2W-2D-4L since they changed managers. They’re 2W-2D-1L in their last 5, having started off under Torrent with 3 straight league losses, and threw in a 6-2 friendly match obliteration at the hands of second division Tuzlaspor. Lord knows who played in that match for Galatasary, but that’s got to sting.

Look: I still don’t much care for the Europa League, but I do kind of like this aspect of it: almost random matchups. Xavi said in his presser that Gomis is a challenge to face, but I imagine that Mostafa Mohamed will get the start there, being, you know, young and an Egyptian international starter and all. I want to see these matchups, with these teams and players I don’t normally get to watch, it’s just that the Thursday aspect of it is grating. I’m on record as saying there’s too much football and here I am talking about how these second tier European games are something to be excited about. They’re not cool, except in the vacuum that says Galatasary vs Barcelona is cool, which it is. So they’re both cool and not cool at the same time.

There’s no Dani Alves for Barça because he wasn’t registered for the Europa League (probably to protect his legs as much as provide room for someone else), so by definition the match can’t be that cool, but it does provide an opportunity for Xavi to further implement his system in a competitive environment. Having given up at least 2 goals in their last 3 matches and at least a goal in their last 11 matches, I suspect that defensive solidity is not their calling card; nor is it necessarily ours, so perhaps a bit of fireworks can be expected.

What if — and hear me out with this crazy idea — this is the match that Ferran Torres uses as a springboard to actually score even like 10% of the chances he has? He scored against Elche…and missed a bunch of sitters. He’s getting into the right places, he’s working hard, he’s opening up space, he’s filling space properly, he’s moving well, communicating well, and absolutely filling his pants in front of goal. That has to stop at some point…right? Right? The Alexis Sanchez flashbacks are killing me.

Prediction: 3-1, Barça, hat trick from Ferran. I mean Auba. I mean Luuk. Please, someone score.