Beaten by Arsenal but returning to London in form – why Besiktas can hurt Spurs
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After a two-year ban, Besiktas are back in European football. Beating Feyenoord twice gave the Black Eagles hope of qualifying for the Champions League, but they were eliminated by Arsenal in a close play-off.
Nevertheless, the sun is still shining over Istanbul after Slaven Bilic's side's character-packed display against the Gunners; on another day they could have reached the group stage had they had taken their chances.
Now, after dropping two points at home to Asteras Tripolis in the first group game, they are to face another north London club on Thursday night. Their previous performance at the Emirates Stadium, where Tottenham drew 1-1 last weekend, will mean they go into this one with confidence. Spurs are fellow group favourites alongside Besiktas, and also drew their first game at Partizan Belgrade.
Besiktas have played four league games so far this season, and haven't lost one of them. However, gaining only two points from as many home games is not a good sign for them. They've won both away games with the same scoreline (1-0), though, and restriced their opponents to very few chances. Adding those displays to the confidence they built previously, the Turkish side will go to London with three points in mind.
Bilic played for two Premier League clubs (West Ham and Everton) in his career, but that's not necessarily what most English fans will remember him for. As Croatia manager he masterminded wins over the Three Lions in Euro 2008 qualifying to deny Steve McClaren's men a place at the tournament. After an unsuccessful period at Russian giants Lokomotiv Moskow, he took charge of Besiktas at the beginning of 2013/14.
He’s best known for his attention to tactical details, and his strictness. The Turkish press haven’t gone easy on the Croatian since his arrival, though, criticising him mostly for his substitutions. Still, in his second year in the job, he is continuing to make his imprint on the team, especially in defence. Off the pitch, meanwhile, he’s already become a women’s favourite thanks to his rugged looks and charismatic rock-star image.
Another familiar name for English fans is Senegalese striker Demba Ba, who joined Besiktas this summer and couldn’t wait to impress the fans. A superb hat-trick against Feyenoord meant he became the first player to score three goals in a single European game for the Black Eagles. Arsenal fans (and Wojciech Szczesny, obviously) will remember his amazing strike in the first leg which almost produced a memorable goal.
He's only played six games so far (missing two league games because of injury), but already Ba has showed his importance for the team. Without him they couldn’t beat Rizespor and Asteras Tripolis at home, showing a lack of quality in front of goal. Besides his leadership, the former Chelsea hitman's creativity and finishing will help Besiktas strike fear into their opponents.
Bilic prefers a strict 4-4-1-1 formation, with the two lines (defence and midfield) moving in tandem on the pitch. The two central midfielders Atiba Hutchinson and Veli Kavlak play an important role in this system because of their non-stop pressing.
The team’s offensive strategy is built on the dribbling power of right winger Gokhan Tore and the creativity of ex-Arsenal youngster Oguzhan Ozyakup, who plays behind the striker as playmaker.
Ba plays as a lone striker up front and tries to create chances for team-mates from his deep-lying position. Finally (and probably most importantly) left winger Olcay Sahan’s surprising runs behind the defence have been their strongest route to goal recently.
Bilic has used new signing Jose Ernesto Sosa as a substitute so far, but the Argentine well may be on the pitch against Tottenham instead of Ozyakup. His experience will surely be a motivation and help to the team.
Not surprisingly, Besiktas has a strong team defence, against which opponents have some serious trouble creating clear chances. Atiba and Veli are both good ball-winners, with the latter occasionally starting counter-attacks after stealing the ball from the opposition.
Colombian Pedro Franco may not be tall or strong enough for a defender, but has amazing calmness and vision. He's usually the player who builds the game from the back with his passing. With two speedy wingers they can play the transition game so efficiently that even Jürgen Klopp would be jealous. Maybe.
Most notably at right-back, where Bilic has already used three players. The team’s only natural right-back, Serdar Kurtulus, has been criticised for his defensive weakness and lack of athleticism.
Central midfielder Necip Uysal is more solid at the back, but no one has seen a decent cross from him. The most efficient subject of this trial has been İsmail Koybasi, who's originally a left-back. He did well against Arsenal, and it won’t be a surprise if Bilic puts him on the right with Ramon Motta on the left.
Besiktas have been building a new arena, so they play their home games at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium. It has a capacity of 76,092, but because of its distance from the city and the fans’ protest against the 'Passolig' application, Besiktas supporters don’t show so much interest in attending the games.
Did you know?
During last year’s protests in Turkey, Besiktas fans stole a TOMA (a type of intervention vehicle for social events) and got into a serious fight with the police.
This month, 35 members of their notorious fan group Çarşı were charged with attempting to divide the country. So don’t be scared when you see a wild group of Black Eagles in the stands at White Hart Lane...