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The Season So Far
Galatasaray came into the season as reigning champions, having edged out Fenerbahce last year. Those two teams, plus Besiktas, have dominated domestic football in Turkey for decades, winning 53 of the last 60 league titles between them.
Istanbul Basaksehir are very much the new kids on the block. Only founded in 1990, they have enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks and have started to compete in the upper echelons of the Super Lig in recent seasons. They finished third last season and have kicked on in fine style this term to move to the brink of a sensational title triumph.
The success has been created around a core of highly experienced players. Former Arsenal pair Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor have been in Istanbul for some time but continue to be key performers, while they have been joined this season by the likes of ex-Chelsea man Demba Ba and one-time Manchester City favourite Robinho.
All of those players are the wrong side of 30, along with others such as on-loan Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan, Dutch international Eljero Elia and 38-year-old club captain Emre, who plied his trade for Inter Milan and Newcastle United back in the early 2000s.
These players may have been written off by some as over the hill but they have proved to be a collection of golden oldies. They have been able to keep cool in the high-pressure environment of Turkish football, using their class to make telling contributions in a league where the tempo isn’t quite as relentless as the English Premier League.
Abdullah Avci has been in charge at the Fatih Terim Stadium since 2014 and has had time to mould a title-winning squad. The attacking side of Basaksehir’s game has never been in doubt, but this season they have been far stronger defensively than anyone else in the Super Lig, conceding just 16 goals in their opening 29 matches. Second-placed Galatasaray have shipped 29 goals and Besiktas 38.
Basaksehir have been top of the league since the autumn and have been helped by the inconsistency of their rivals. Galatasaray endured a poor run of just one win in seven games from October to December, while Besiktas also took a few months to get into their stride. With five games to go, Basaksehir are three points ahead of Galatasaray and six clear of Besiktas.
Fenerbahce, meanwhile, have fallen away so badly this term that they were even in danger of being relegated at one point, although they have recently given themselves a bit of breathing space from the drop zone.
Who Will Win?
It looked as though Basaksehir had the title in the bag earlier in April when they had a chance to move nine points clear at the top of the table. However, after taking the lead against third-placed Besiktas, they went down 2-1 thanks to goals from Atiba Hutchinson and Burak Yilmaz.
Galatasaray did not capitalise on the opportunity straight away, drawing 1-1 with Fenerbahce in the ‘Kitalararasi Derby’, but Basaksehir stumbled again in their next match as they were held 1-1 by Caykur Rizespor. The result left Galatasaray just three points adrift.
With everything to play for, the title could be decided by a showdown between the two teams at Galatsasaray on the penultimate weekend of the season. Besiktas also travel to Galatasaray on 5th May and are in red-hot form, having won five in a row and scored 15 goals in the process, including that victory over Basaksehir and a 7-2 demolition of Caykur Rizespor.
The long odds on Besiktas suggest they only have the slimmest of chances, but they should not be discounted with the fixtures as they are and 33/1 could be worth a flutter this far out from the end of the season. However, Besiktas are still relying on a few other results going their way and it is likely to be between the other two teams.
Basaksehir have never won a major title before and Galatasaray may feel happier to be the team in pursuit of the leaders, the hunters rather than the hunted. The age of the senior Basaksehir players could also become an increasingly influential factor after a long, hard season, even if their experience will stand them in good stead for the run-in.
Basaksehir will be thankful that their next three fixtures are against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. Win those, and the title should be going to a new corner of Istanbul for the first time in almost a decade.