Why Prandelli's work-in-progress Galatasaray are there for Arsenal's taking
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After winning two consecutive league titles, the 'cold war' between president Unal Aysal and manager Fatih Terim resulted in the latter’s sacking in September 2013.
More pertinently, it forced the fans to see their fiercest rivals Fenerbahce go on to win the league easily last season. However, with the Yellow Canaries banned from all European tournaments, second-placed Galatasaray went directly to the Champions League group stage.
Their performance in the opening game against Anderlecht wasn't exactly satisfying, but a late equaliser from Burak Yılmaz helped fans see the glass half full. After Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park, Yılmaz's goal means the Lions go into this game a point ahead of Arsene Wenger’s men.
But a slow start in both the league and Europe has already put pressure on new manager Cesare Prandelli. Thankfully for the Turkish side, their Italian coach has enough experience to overcome these challenges, and what better way to prove it than beating Arsenal at Emirates?
When previous manager Roberto Mancini decided to leave his post, president Aysal stated that Galatasaray were looking for a coach who preferred the German or Dutch style.
Needless to say, the appointment of Prandelli was surprising. The Italian endured an unsuccessful World Cup after failing to guide Italy past the group stage, but the 57-year-old will be expected to achieve more with a Yellow-Reds side that finished nine points behind champions Fenerbahce under Mancini. Thus, putting another Italian manager in the driver’s seat seemed a little odd at first.
His protracted two-year stint with Galatasaray is his first venture outside of Italy, and this has already caused some adaptation problems. On a technical level, he took over a squad with several unfamiliar faces, and most important of all, lost Didier Drogba.
His start has hardly made the fans happy – Galatasaray have picked up seven points from four league games and drew at home with Anderlecht – but they appear willing to give him time. Certainly, from his attire in the last home game against Sivasspor (bearded, with raincoat and red cap), we can say he’s ignored his Italian roots and started to prefer more of a Turkish look.
Wesley Sneijder returned from national team duty and joined the pre-season camp later than any other player in the squad, but Prandelli didn’t waste much time using him in the friendlies.
Clearly, the Dutchman is seen as a hugely important part of the team. The playmaker scored 12 goals and provided seven assists last season, which helped the Lions secure second place and beat off the likes of Juventus in last season's Champions League.
Despite Prandelli showing a high level of attention for Sneijder, he hasn't yet found the perfect position for the Dutch star so far and this has affected the 30-year-old midfielder’s performances. If Galatasaray are to do well against Arsenal, they'll need Sneijder in a position he's comfortable with.
It’s almost impossible to state a specific plan about Galatasaray this season, because Prandelli has used so many different systems (4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and recently 3-5-2).
Still, the Italian's main objective is to control the game, slow down the tempo, hold possession and create scoring chances by using his star players’ (namely Sneijder, Yılmaz and Goran Pandev) abilities up front.
The first problem Prandelli has attempted to address is in defence; he enforced a three-man structure in the last league game, deploying midfielder Felipe Melo at the centre of the backline.
While this helped them solidify defensively, they seemed rather weak in midfield; Turkish national star Selcuk Inan hasn’t exactly been in his best form recently (the fans booed him in the last couple of games).
Melo’s position at the Emirates will affect Galatasaray’s gameplan on Wednesday night. Against a midfield with as much technical ability as Arsenal’s, Prandelli may consider using the Brazilian in the engine room to benefit from his aggressiveness.
Galatasaray have a strong squad with great experience at international level. This is their third consecutive season in the Champions League, after reaching the quarter-finals in 2012/13 and the last 16 in 2013/14.
In addition to Fernando Muslera, Aurelien Chedjou, Melo and Sneijder, they signed two experienced players (Blerim Dzemaili and Pandev) who can help them improve on past performances.
That's not to mention the atmosphere at the Turk Telekom Arena (although it won't apply here, of course) – Galatasaray fans are best known for their choreography before Champions League games.
New boss Prandelli has spent his first weeks trying so many different players in as many positions, and this has made it hard for the team to find a rhythm. Because of the foreign player rule in the Turkish League, he has struggled to find a solid and constant starting XI so far. Napoli arrival Pandev, meanwhile, is aiming to replace the powerful Drogba, who went back to his old club Chelsea after failing to sign a new contract with the Turks.
Galatasaray are well known for their previous stadium (Ali Sami Yen) across Europe; most English fans remember the famous “Wellcome to Hell” sign from the draw against Manchester United in 1993/94. They've been playing at the Turk Telekom Arena since 2011, and even though it's only been three-and-a-half years, this modern stadium has already become one of the most vibrant shrines in football. Arsenal fans will doubtlessly see some impressive choreography before their clash in December.
Did you know?
Galatasaray is the only Turkish football club in history to have won a European trophy. In 2000, they beat Arsenal in the UEFA Cup final on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes in Copenhagen. The goalkeeper from that night, Claudio Taffarel, is now one of the coaches and has been working for Galatasaray since 2011. This is the Brazilian’s second spell at the Turkish club, after a short period in the 2004/05 season.