Galatasaray's Didier Drogba attends a training session at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid

Champions League Preview: Galatasaray visits Real Madrid looking for Turkish breakthrough

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It’s been five years since the Turkish league saw one of its teams make it this far in UEFA Champions League, only back then, when a Chelsea team six months removed from the departure of José Mourinho faced Fenerbahçe, the tie started in Istanbul. An imposing atmosphere at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium combined with the general uncertainties surrounding Chelsea to create a feeling Fener may actually have a chance, a sense that was vindicated when the Canaries won the first leg, 2-1. Although it was predictable and, for the upset-minded, a bit melancholy when the eventual finalists moved back in front four minutes into the return leg, Turkey’s champions showed the league wasn’t out of its depth in the competition’s quarterfinals.

The same thing happened seven years earlier when Galatasaray became the first Turkish side to make the competition’s quarterfinals. Then, like today, Gala’s opponent was Real Madrid, only whereas this year’s matchup starts at the Santiago Bernabeu, 2001’s quarterfinal began at the old Ali Sami Yen. And just like Fener did against Chelsea, Galatasaray got a first leg win, with three-second half goals giving Mircea Lucescu’s team the 3-2 upset. Gala would go on to lose the return leg, 3-0.

Both teams represented the Super Lïg well in the final eight, but the fact that no other Turkish sides have made it this far hints Champions League’s quarterfinals may be one step too far. The results of the two road legs support that hypothesis, with Chelsea and Real Madrid easily overturning first leg deficits. Had those ties not began in Turkey, the drama may have been extinguished before the sides arrived in Istanbul.

source: Getty Images(MORE: Málaga’s lone edge over Borussia Dortmund.)

That’s the danger of today’s match in Madrid. Mourinho’s Real have recovered from their winter swoon to regain their status as one of the competition’s favorites, a stature affirmed with their Round of 16 ousting of Manchester United. Given the general feeling that this is Mourinho’s last year with the Merengues, there’s more urgency than ever to capture the club’s precious 10th European Cup – la decima. The vindication Mourinho could feel delivering that title after three challenging years in the capital would rival any accomplishment of his professional career.

Galatasaray’s trip to the quarterfinals is less a reflection on contention and more a product of good draws. They were drawn into the weakest group in the competition and needed only to best CFR Cluj and Braga to make the knockout round. There they drew the mercurial Schalke – the weakest of the group winners. When the Miners faltered at home in the teams’ Round of 16 match, Galatasaray had their quarterfinal return.

(MORE, from Tuesday: PSG-Barça inconclusive | Bayern illustrates the gap to Juventus.)

Head coach Fatih Terim knows his team’s the underdog, yet he insists his team plans to go at the powerful Merengues. One goal will not be enough, he says. Though he could play conservatively and try to keep the tie within reach ahead of the return leg in Istanbul, Terim seems set to put his faith in his own attackers. He has the competition’s joint-lead scorer in Burak Yilmaz (eight goals). And he has former Mourinho stars Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder.

What remains to be seen is whether he’ll have better luck than his predecessors taking a Turkish team on the road in the Champions League quarterfinals. Even a goal would be history, let alone a win.

Notes

  • Gala is one of the few teams alive in this competition that have domestic concerns. They’re four up on Fener at the top of the Super Lïg, though the schedule does them a favor this weekend. Terim’s men host last place Mersin İdmanyurdu on Saturday.
  • Remarkably, Real Madrid have a player on their roster who played against Gala 12 years ago, though Iker Casillas is unlikely to see time in this tie. The Real captain has been medically cleared to return from his broken thumb, yet he looks unlikely to reclaim his job from Diego Lopez.
  • Real’s team that lost in Istanbul 12 years ago: Casillas, Salgado, Carlos, Hierro, Karanka, Helguera, Makelele, McManaman, Morientes, Figo, Raul.
  • With two goals this weekend in Gala’s derby with Istanbul BB, Yilmaz is up to 13 in his last 11 games for club and country. This is after the 27-year-old led last year’s Lïg with 33 goals in 34 appearances for Trabzonspor.
  • Real Madrid have not lost at the Santiago Bernabeu in over a year, last falling to Barcelona in January 2012 in Copa del Rey competition. Their unbeaten streak sits at 37.
  • Galatasaray have won three straight Champions League matches on the road: at Schalke last round (3-2) and group stage matches at Braga (2-1) and CFR Cluj (3-1).
  • While Real’s 18 goals in this year’s competition tie them for the lead among quarterfinalists, Gala’s 11 goals are the lowest among the tournament’s survivors.

(MORE, Highlights: PSG-Barcelona | Bayern-Juventus.)

Possible lineups

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego Lopez; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Ángil Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Dany Nounkeu, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba.

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Leicester, Tottenham both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage takes place on Wednesday with two Premier League teams in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City is already through and has topped Group G with Claudio Ranieri‘s men securing a top spot for next Monday’s Round of 16 draw. The Foxes face FC Porto in Portugal with the hosts needing just a point to secure second place in the group and their spot in the last 16. Putting their Premier League worries aside, Leicester will aim to stay unbeaten throughout all six of their UCL group games.

Tottenham Hotspur wish they could say the same but Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have already crashed out of the Champions League with one game to go. They host CSKA Moscow at Wembley Stadium in Group E with Spurs needing just a draw to secure a place in the Europa League knockout stages. Bayer Leverkusen and AS Monaco has already qualified from Group E but Spurs’ Harry Kane insists they now want to go on and win the Europa League.

[ MORE: Permutations for each UCL group ]

Elsewhere Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund clash to decide top spot in Group F, while Juventus, Lyon and Sevilla are all still in the mix in Group H with the final game to come.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group E
Tottenham Hotspur vs. CSKA Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Monaco

Group F
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting Lisbon

Group G
FC Porto vs. Leicester City
Club Brugge vs. FC Copenhagen

Group H
Juventus vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Lyon vs. Sevilla

Power Rankings: Top five players in the Premier League, right now

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The Premier League Player Power Rankings are out and now it is time to focus on the top five.

[ MORE: PST’s top 20 players, Week 14 ]

With two players from Chelsea and two from Arsenal, plus another from Tottenham Hotspur in the top five, Week 14 delivered plenty of goals and attacking players dominate our rankings.

Click on the link above to see our full list of the top 20 players in the Premier League, while in the video above Jenna Corrado and I discuss my top five players based on the last seven days of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ] 

Hit play on the video above to enjoy watching some silky skills and terrific goals as we guide you through the creme de la creme.

Why are Leicester struggling so much? Where can Man City improve?

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Last season Leicester City vs. Manchester City was a clash between two rivals fighting for the Premier League title.

This season? Not so much.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Leicester host Man City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), with the reigning champs embroiled in a relegation battle with just three wins from their 14 PL games this season.

As for City, Pep Guardiola is finding the Premier League a little tougher to handle than Spain and Germany early on with City winning just three of their last eight games in the Premier League but they’re still sitting just four points off top spot. That said, City has lost to both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea already and their status as preseason title favorites is already being severely questioned.

For Leicester, their problems are worse than those at Man City.

There are multiple issues at play which could explain their stunning drop-off compared to last season. After 14 games this season the Foxes have 13 points. At the same point of their incredible title-winning campaign in 2015-16 they had 29 points and were joint-top of the table with Manchester City who actually have one more point this season than they had at this stage last season.

Back to Leicester and right now they are just two points off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last four games. Ranieri is very worried about relegation, as his recent comments in press conferences show.

“This moment is not the right moment for us. We wanted to get points here but of course it was a relegation battle, they won, well done to them,” Ranieri said after the defeat at Sunderland. “I said two, three weeks ago, always I look behind me. We are in the battle of relegation. For this reason we must stay calm, together and continue to work hard.”

At least Ranieri knows it, but how has it got to this point with Leicester breezing through their UCL group and into the knockout stages?

The loss of N'Golo Kante in midfield has been huge for Leicester with the French international midfielder already proving indispensable for Chelsea this season as he breaks play up, shields the back four and sets the tempo of the game for his team. Kante’s departure has left a huge hole in Leicester’s midfield but they’ve been equally hit just as hard with a lack of goals from Jamie Vardy who has scored just twice in the PL and Riyad Mahrez has suffered from a lack of creativity.

Mahrez set up 22 goalscoring chances for Vardy last season. This season the duo have combined just once. Maybe that is because Ranieri has been chopping and changing his team so much to cope with the demands of the UCL and PL, with Mahrez and Vardy often preferred for European action, but there’s no doubting that their level has dropped off and that’s happened across Leicester’s entire squad.

When you look at Leicester’s defensive displays, not much has changed but perhaps the rub of the green is going against them and they are falling behind to opponents extremely often which is making them chase the game and they’re getting out of their comfort zone. Simply put: Leicester isn’t doing what it is best at.

Ranieri knows it and said as much after their latest defeat at Sunderland which has put them further in trouble with plenty of tough games on the horizon.

“It is difficult to say what we miss. We miss everything,” Ranieri said.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss the recent poor form of both Leicester and Man City and if fans of both teams should be worried heading into this big match on Saturday.

Click play on the video above to see us break it down.

Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.