A View from the Opposition | Beşiktaş v Sporting

After losing their first two UEFA Champions League games, Sporting travel to Turkey to take on Beşiktaş hoping to get points on the board. Próxima Jornada spoke to Sinan Schwarting of the Black Eagles Podcast to get the lowdown on what Rúben Amorim’s men can expect.

For a side that perennially competes for titles in Turkey, Beşiktaş went into last season with very low expectations. In something of a rebuild, with the side ageing and largely overpaid, a number of wages were cut, and a new, more spendthrift approach to the transfer window was adopted. The academy was to provide a keeper and a left back (Ersin Destanoğlu & Ridvan Yilmaz), while the club looked to do shrewd business elsewhere, snapping up the likes of Vincent Aboubakar & Josef de Souza for free, and then Rachid Ghezzal (from Leicester) and Valentin Rosier (from Sporting, interestingly) on loan deals in a hurried manner late in the transfer window – cutting wages had been the clear priority and few knew what to expect.

Galatasaray had won the 2018-19 title and despite letting Başakşehir pass them for a surprise 19/20 title, seemed poised to be competitive yet again. Meanwhile title-starved Fenerbahçe went all in during the transfer window buying players three-deep at every position, young and old alike, highlighted of course by Mesut Özil. They had earned the reputation of consensus favorites for the title by the close of the summer.

Still, against all the odds, Beşiktaş almost ran away with it in the end, if not for a rash of injuries late in the year, which ultimately made it a close run affair. They won nonetheless, and in a year few had expected much of anything from them. 

It meant that this season the expectations were ratcheted up – and as such the board brought in Miralem Pjanic, Michy Batshuayi, Alex Teixeira, Turkish NT regulars Mert Günok, Kenan Karaman, Umut Meraş, and Salih Uçan, as well as a number of prospects and unheralded role players. It seemed that the team was poised to succeed where they were now expected to by fans.

With all of that said, Beşiktaş has had an interesting season thus far, though given how many injuries the side has suffered, it probably doesn’t qualify as “disappointing” just yet, as the club has remained in contention for first in the Turkish Süper Lig. Now in 4th place, 4 points back on a talented Trabzonspor side, one might expect anger and bewilderment, though it’s mostly just been the latter, and not about losing but rather the injuries; going into the last international break, the side had 9 starters and 4 key bench players injured, including even a random case of Covid (young defender Francisco Montero has since recovered, though has yet to feature, just being made available for the first time against Sporting on Tuesday). Normally with lofty expectations like those placed upon this season’s Beşiktaş squad, 2 draws and 2 losses in 9 matches would be seen as disappointing, but given the unprecedented rash of injuries that has struck the team, many fans are simply glad to still be in contention. Especially since almost everyone has since returned to training. The international break, for a change, brought a bit of respite rather than the usual breaking up of form and distraction that it usually does

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Possibly Missing Key Players.

Last season the defence was the big question mark, and could on any given day be either the key strength or weakness of the side. Poor defense early on gave way to a strong unit that only started collapsing under pressure a bit late in the season again under the strain of injury and fatigue (as well as the pressure of playing for a title – as previously mentioned, it was a young unit with two recent academy graduates involved in the mix).

This year, with Pjanic, Batshuayi, and Alex Teixeira, the team’s attack is expected to be a strength, and sure enough their 18 goals has them tied as the 2nd-most prolific scoring unit behind only current leaders Trabzonspor. Their eleven goals allowed however are decidedly middling. Young keeper Ersin has been spared many of those goals, as his backup Mert has taken a bit of a beating in his stead in a few matches, so his confidence could remain intact despite what has been a less than ideal output for the unit as a whole. Anchor Josef de Souza’s form is typically vital to the team’s defensive output. His ability to connect with and play alongside Miralem Pjanic, and in his stead Canadian NT legend Atiba Hutchinson, has been key to linking play and getting forward. Pjanic, especially, has been instrumental in adding a certain dynamism and intent in attack to a side that has struggled to gel and settle, what with all the aforementioned injuries. Michy Batshuayi has settled in nicely and while the goals haven’t been pouring in just yet (4 goals in 7 matches), he hasn’t been completely lacking in that regard, and his work rate, and energy have been contagious – he seems to have landed with his feet on the ground and is just waiting for the rest of the attack to fully recover from injury and gel so that he can start getting better opportunities.

That provides a perfect segue to the big question for this side and will be Beşiktaş’s key against Sporting for both matches (in the coming hours and weeks); with the team finally getting back on the pitch healthy, can they now put all the pieces together and realize their potential? It remains to be seen – the side lost this last Friday on the road against Başakşehir, with a few key pieces such as Pjanic being rested. They should certainly provide for some entertaining viewing at Vodafone Park, and in early November in Lisbon. Beşiktaş will view this as their last chance to salvage anything from this Champions League campaign, and as a springboard into what they hope will be a more fruitful portion of the season for this Black Eagles outfit.

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