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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.