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

Leave a comment

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.

Javier Hernandez reflects on Premier League return

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Javier Hernandez is ready to get back to scoring goals in the Premier League.

If that happens, get ready to see plenty of Claret and Blue shirts with “Chicharito” on the back of them.

[ MORE: Where will Chicharito slot in? ]

Chicharito, 29, signed a three-year deal with the Hammers on Monday making him the best paid player in club history with wages of just over $180,000 per week. He won two Premier League titles in five seasons at Manchester United and is still lauded at Old Trafford for his crucial goals in big games with 59 goals in 157 appearances in all competitions.

Speaking to West Ham’s in-house TV channel, the El Tri star revealed exactly why he’s looking forward to a return to the PL.

“I am very excited. The last three years – the loan in Madrid and the two years with Leverkusen – were fantastic for me, and they helped me to improve a lot. But before then I was in England for four years – it was my first chapter in my European career – and now to be back makes me very happy,” Hernandez said.

“For me it is the most competitive in the world. There are no easy games, you can see that the top 10 can change a lot. The Premier League challenges you and that is why I am here – I want to improve. I’m very desperate for the season to start now, and help the team to achieve their objectives next season.”

West Ham’s objectives may have changed slightly after Slaven Bilic‘s side pushed through four new signings this summer and three in quick succession.

Chicharito has joined Marko Arnautovic and Joe Hart by signing for the east London club over the past 10 days, while Pablo Zabaleta had already arrived on a free transfer.

With vast PL and international experience in the four summer signings, Bilic’s aims have probably jumped from finishing in the top 10 to pushing for seventh place and the final Europa League spot. The Hammers finished last season strongly after a poor start which was them compounded by failing to settle into their new London Stadium home, the Dimtri Payet saga and then multiple defensive injuries.

Chicharito has the fifth-best goals per minute ratio in Premier League history so in theory combining his predatory skills with the creativity of Manuel Lanzini, Arnautovic and Michail Antonio should work very well indeed.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer hasn’t slowed down his production in the Bundesliga over the past two seasons, scoring 28 goals in 54 league appearances for Leverkusen and his displays in recent 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup proved his movement is as sharp as ever.

The Hammers have gambled on Chicharito providing the goals to help them challenge for Europe once again and on paper it looks like a smart bet.

Ronald Koeman confirms Ross Barkley to leave Everton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ronald Koeman has confirmed that Ross Barkley will not play for Everton.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

Barkley, 23, has just one year left on his current deal at Everton but the playmaker has turned down a new deal with his boyhood club and Koeman revealed he wants a “new challenge” elsewhere.

When asked if he was certain Barkley would leave Koeman replied “100 percent” but he did state that there aren’t any offers on the table as things stand.

Ahead of Everton’s UEFA Europa League third qualifying round firs leg against MFK Ruzomberok at Goodison Park on Thursday, Koeman revealed the new about Barkley. 

“His personal situation is not so difficult. We made a really good offer to him to sign a new contract and he declined that contract and he told me he is looking for a new challenge,” Koeman said. “It is not Everton’s future anymore. It is his decision. I need to respect that and we will see what happens because what I heard from the board at the moment, it’s not really an offer on the table for Ross.”

The England international is currently recovering from surgery on his groin and is expected to be out until the end of August.

With Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez arriving this summer, plus the Toffees pushing hard to sign Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea City, it’s not difficult to see why Barkley sees his future elsewhere and the enigmatic attacking midfielder was criticized by Koeman on multiple occasions last season.

Where could Barkley go?

Tottenham and Arsenal are destinations which keep cropping up but neither are likely to spend over $30 million to bring him to north London and neither are exactly short of playmaking midfielders. It’s probably right that Barkley, once the brightest hope of English soccer, gets a fresh start elsewhere as his contract situation has left the fanbase, and Koeman, more than a little frustrated over the past 12 months.

After losing his starting spot with the English national team to Dele Alli over the past year, plus his regular spot at Everton under severe threat, Barkley’s career is reaching a pivotal stage.

The young talent who burst onto the scene ahead of the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be the next Rooney but his career is in real danger of petering out if he doesn’t find the right club to fit his talents and help him regain his form. The talent is there with Barkley but many, including Koeman, have questioned his commitment to truly realize his potential.

Jose Mourinho slams “dangerous” summer of spending

Getty Images
1 Comment

Manchester United’s manager isn’t happy with the amount of money being spent this summer in the transfer market.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City?  

He has spent $156 million on just two players, but we will leave that fact to one side, like Jose has, for the moment…

Speaking in Washington D.C. ahead of United’s final game of their U.S. tour against Barcelona on Wednesday, Mourinho defended United breaking the world transfer record to sign Paul Pogba last summer and then spending a total which could rise to $117 million on Romelu Lukaku this summer.

“Every club is getting good players, every club is investing a lot and some clubs are paying too much and by paying too much they create a very strange and out of control market,” Mourinho told the BBC. “But this is the reality now. I always thought the problem is not what you pay for these kind of (top) players, I don’t think the problem is what you pay for Pogba, I don’t think the problem is going to pay crazy for Neymar.

“I think the problem is with the other group which is a big group because players like Pogba, there is one or two (big) transfers (like that) per transfer window. The other ones are where you have 100 transfers and for me that is the dangerous area of the market. Some clubs are paying or they don’t buy because they don’t accept the numbers that are now ruling the market, or to do it they have to go the same levels and for me that’s what worries me a little bit because now we speak about £30million, £40million, £50million in such an easy way.”

Has he got a point?

The elite players will always demand the biggest fees with the likes of Messi, Pogba, Lukaku, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez rightly demanding huge sums given their output of goals and assists. Yet when defensive players are being bought for over $65 million, e.g. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City, that’s when eyebrows being to raise.

Of course, Mourinho is throwing stones from inside a glass house because United have been big spenders for quite some time and although they aren’t shelling out the sums Manchester City could for Kylian Mbappe this summer and what Chelsea have over the last 15 years in their dramatic rebuild under Roman Abramovich, they have still spent almost $900 million in transfer fees alone over the past four seasons.

Mourinho has spent over $341 million on new players since arriving last summer…

Yes, he has got a point that good to very good players are now costing more than world-class players did five years ago, but the main debate here is whether or not these fees are sustainable. The answer is, probably not, and Mourinho wants to let United’s fans know he won’t pay over the odds as he intimates crosstown rivals Man City are…

The mind games never end with Jose.

Pep Guardiola gives update on Kylian Mbappe interest

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola has given an intriguing update on Manchester City’s pursuit of Kylian Mbappe.

[ PHOTOS: Man City’s new away kit ]

With reports in Spain stating that Real Madrid had agreed a $208 million deal for the 18-year-old striker, Man City and others were still said to be pushing hard to sign the French international with the Premier League side waiting to hear back from Monaco.

Speaking in Los Angeles ahead of City’s International Champions Cup game against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Guardiola revealed he hasn’t given up hope of signing the powerful forward.

“The player is still at Monaco – still on that team,” Guardiola said via the Manchester Evening News. “Anything can happen – we are still looking at a lot of other players, but he is still on that team. The Premier League is so attractive and the agreements are good. All the clubs think about their potential and their squads getting better. We try and we will see. Now there is a period where there are a lot of doubts in terms of the players who are here and who will be here or not. We have to wait and meanwhile prepare the team as well as possible.”

Pep has just left enough there to suggest City hope they can lure Mbappe to the Etihad Stadium. He also insisted they can compete financially with Real Madrid and Europe’s superpowers when it comes to spending.

“Madrid doesn’t have more than Manchester City have,” Guardiola said. “Players are very important and we always try to get the best players possible. Abu Dhabi came in and invested in the team. Over the past five or six years we climbed to the top and we’re now in the top three or four. In order to get to the level of Madrid or Barcelona we just need time.”

So, they need time and to keep splashing the cash.

City have already spent over $255 million this summer, bringing in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Ederon and Danilo in the largest spending spree in one transfer window the Premier League has ever seen.

If they can somehow lure Mbappe to Manchester (maybe linking up with former Monaco teammates Silva and Mendy will give them the edge) it boggles to mind to see where and how Guardiola will slot him into the side. Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are all fighting for the front three positions, plus Bernardo Silva is now in the mix with David Silva in a deeper midfield role.

Mbappe — who scored 26 goals last season as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals — was said to be worried about moving to Real Madrid due to a lack of chances playing in the first team, but with these kind of offers flying around for him he shouldn’t be too worried about playing time.

Even though he’s only been on the scenes for one season, Mbappe showed enough potential for Monaco to suggest he will challenge the glut of stars Real Madrid, Man City and others possess.