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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Five Questions to Ask for the 2nd Half of the Season

With the second half of the Turkish Super League season on the horizon, there are many questions to ask. After a first half of the season featuring Anatolian teams leading the way for much of the season, it seems likely that the league title will stay outside of Istanbul for a second consecutive season. That hasn't happened since 1977, when Trabzonspor repeated as champions. So with that there are five questions to ask before the second half of the Turkish Super League begins.

1) Will the league title stay in Anatolia?

One of the stories during the first half of the Turkish Super League season was the performances of the Anatolian teams, particularly Trabzonspor, Bursaspor, and Kayserispor. Except for a freak loss to Manisaspor at home, Trabzonspor has been the class of the league. Trabzonspor has given up the least amount of goals so far with ten, and scored the most so far with forty. Manager Senol Gunes has created a squad that has come a long way since he initially took over at the beginning of 2010. The team may have suffered a heartbreaking loss in Europe to Liverpool, but Trabzonspor has not only been the class of the league, they have a healthy five point gap between themselves and Bursaspor at the top of the table. Defending champions Bursaspor have proven that they are not a fluke this season, as they had a string of eight consecutive weeks at the top of the table, only to be overtaken by Trabzonspor. Ertugrul Saglam's squad may have suffered a disappointing Champions League run, but that should be taken as a learning experience. They have been quiet during the winter transfer window. However, as the only team within reasonable striking distance of Trabzonspor at the top of the table, Bursaspor is able to overtake Trabzonspor should the leaders stumble. Bursaspor currently has 37 points, five points out of first place. Kayserispor has stumbled a bit at the end of the first half. A few injuries to some key players such as Franco Cangele and Marcelo Zayaleta have cost Kayserispor points as the first half of the season wound down. However, manager Shota Arveladze has done well even with the injuries and has Kayserispor within one point of overtaking Fenerbahçe for third place. This is an impressive job considering that this is Arveladze's first managerial job of any kind. With players recovering, it would not be surprising for Kayserispor to aim even higher. Considering that the big 3 Istanbul clubs have stumbled this season, an Anatolian champion is very likely.

2) Considering they have been in the transfer headlines, how will Beşiktaş do?

Beşiktaş have stolen the transfer headlines again. With the transfers of Hugo Almeida from Werder Bremen, Simao Sabrosa from Atletico Madrid, and the loan of Manuel Fernandes, there seems to be a Portuguese revolution occurring at Beşiktaş. With these moves, and considering Ricardo Quaresma and Guti are already on the club, Beşiktaş has retooled for what seems like a run at the Turkish league title and a deep run in the Europa League knockout rounds. Even with these transfers, team chemistry is the big question here. The three new players will have to get acclimated quickly because of tremendous expectations from the Beşiktaş fans, especially from the Çarşi supporters group. They will also have to get used to manager Bernd Schuster's system, and get used to their new teammates. In order to make room for them, Beşiktaş will have to release a few foreigners or send them out on loan. Beşiktaş is currently in fifth place with 28 points, 14 points out of first place. So it seems that the best that Beşiktaş can do is possibly get the second Champions League spot. However, a few bad results for the teams above them currently, and Beşiktaş could be right back in the championship mix. Unlike the other teams though, Beşiktaş will also have the Europa League knockout rounds to contend with. Should they make a deep run, fatigue could also be a factor not only in Europe, but domestically as well. It's very likely that Beşiktaş will not win the league title this year, but they can be considered a favorite for the league title next year.

3) How will Galatasaray recover from a disastrous first half of the season?

If someone asked a Galatasaray fan, before the season started, where they would be when the winter break came around, they'd most likely say either leading or within striking distance of the leader in the table. Ninth place at this point would have been unthinkable, but that is exactly where Galatasaray is at the moment. After getting off to their worst start in nearly twenty years, sacking previous manager Frank Rijkaard before the Fenerbahçe derby, and bringing in Gheorghe Hagi as the new manager, winning a league title this season for Galatasaray is near impossible. Add to the fact that the Zveijdan Misimovic transfer has been nothing short of a total disaster. Injuries have also taken their toll on Galatasaray as well, considering team captain Arda Turan's lengthy absence due to injury. Galatasaray will be opening up a brand new stadium and their fans are very antsy as to the team's performance in the previous seventeen weeks. They will expect Galatasaray to come right out of the gate and win, nothing else will suffice. They have made some moves during the transfer window, most notably bringing in Fenerbahçe outcast Colin Kazim-Richards and Juan Culio from CFR Cluj. But considering that the first half of the season was a disaster, Galatasaray will need to have a lot of results to go their way in order for them to even get near the European spots in the table.

4) Is Fenerbahçe going to contend for the league title?

Fenerbahçe is probably the only team out of the Istanbul big 3 that can consider their first half of the season to be somewhat successful. While third place and a nine point gap between them and the top might not look like a success, considering the comparative performances of their inner Istanbul rivals, Fenerbahçe looks in better shape. Manager Aykut Kocaman has done well considering that Fenerbahçe has the toughest start to the season, playing Kayserispor, Trabzonspor, and Beşiktaş within the first five weeks. The start to the second half of the season will be extremely rough for Fenerbahçe. They have an away match to Antalyaspor to start off, host both Trabzonspor and Kayerispor in weeks 19 and 21 respectively, and have to travel to Inonu stadium to play Beşiktaş in week 22. Manisaspor is sandwiched between the Trabzonspor and Kayserispor matches, and Manisaspor is not a club to be taken lightly. So the first five weeks of the second half for Fenerbahçe is possibly the toughest schedule in the league. Fenerbahçe recently lost to TFF 2nd division (third tier) outfit Yeni Malatyaspor in the Turkish Cup group stages, thereby eliminating them from the competition entirely. However, with one less competition to worry about, Fenerbahçe can concentrate on climbing the ladder and potentially contend for the league title. Fenerbahçe has been quiet on the transfer front, not making any transfers to bolster their roster. Either Aykut Kocaman knows something that Fenerbahçe fans don't, or the second half of the season will be a long one for Fenerbahçe fans.

5) Who will win the Turkish Super League championship?

The question everyone wants answered. The only reasonable answer to this question is to find out by watching. A lot of interesting stories will develop in the second half of the season. This may be another year where the championship will be raised by a club outside of Istanbul. Or the championship will return to Istanbul after a freak occurrence in the Turkish football landscape. Regardless, it should be a second half to watch.

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