For a team that was tipped by some in the Turkish media to be champions, the first quarter of the season Fenerbahce have just about lived up to that billing. The team was already making headlines before the season even started, as manager Ersun Yanal was abruptly sacked three weeks before the season kicked off. Current manager Ismail Kartal has steered the club to joint-first after nine gameweeks of the season. However, there have been criticism about the side’s new playing style.
The first nine weeks have been hectic for Fenerbahce, playing Trabzonspor in the second week and meeting with their fellow three Istanbul rivals all away from home. It’s been demanding, but the team have found a way to grind out the results that see them well placed for the remainder of the campaign.
Some of the results have not been achieved without a bit of luck or controversy. One that springs to mind is the match against Gaziantepspor, which was won 1-0 thanks to a controversial penalty which should not have been called. Yet again they defeated Genclerbirligi courtesy of two penalties, although both appeared to be legitimates penalties for the most part. Luck has also played a role, when Fenerbahce went down to 10 men before halftime against Konyaspor. A Moussa Sow goal and the opposition’s woeful conversion in the final third saw the side claim a plucky win. On a whole, however, the side has been composed and should be commended for their results thus far.
Defensive lapses have been a major weakness for Fenerbahce so far this season. Disciplinary issues were also evident with Bekir Irtegun and Bruno Alves receiving red cards in weeks six and seven respectively. However, the man directly guilty of defensive lapses has been Michal Kadlec. The normally dependable center-back has scored two own goals this season against Karabukspor and Rizespor. Aside from some minor mishaps Kadlec otherwise has been solid his partnership Irtegun continues to develop promisingly.
Fenerbahce is in first place after a quarter of the season. The derbies have all been played on the road and gives the team an edge in the second half of the term. Fenerbahce went unbeaten at home last season, and are currently unbeaten at home this season. While things could be better, the team is starting to come together at maybe the right time. In midfield the side has been able to control the tempo of matches. The side’s gritty nature and team spirit has been the real highlight of their results.
Best starting XI:
(4-3-3) Demirel; Gonul, Irtegun, Kadlec, Erkin; Meireles, Topal, Ribas; Potuk, Moussa Sow, Emenike.
Positions needed to be filled in the transfer window:
Fenerbahce will need a backup right-back, as there really is no definitive backup plan if Gokhan Gonul should go down with injury. Also, it will help Fenerbahce if they invest in a Turkish center-back. This is due to the foreigner cap in the Turkish Super League (five foreigners on the pitch, three on the bench, one in reserve) being very restrictive. A tall foreign center-back could also help, but only if they offload a few foreigners in the winter transfer window. The basic necessity of Fenerbahce is to acquire younger players, as the team has one of the oldest squads (based on average age, in which for Fenerbahce is around 28 years old) in the Super League. Considering they are most likely going to be playing in Europe next season, getting younger players who can keep up with the faster play of continental competition is imperative.
Bekir Irtegun. Irtegun might not be the flashiest, or the most imposing of center backs. But he has gradually improved over the last few years to be a dependable center-back for Fenerbahce. If a center-back only gets truly noticed in the Turkish league for the mistakes he makes, then Irtegun hasn’t been noticed. The 30-year-old has done extremely well to fill in for primary-choice Egemen Korkmaz, who has a knee injury. When he returns it will be interesting to see whether Irtegun retains his place in the team.
Alper Potuk. Over the last few weeks, whether in central midfield or on the left wing, Alper Potuk is a player that can’t be dropped from the starting lineup. That is, unless, when Fenerbahce have to put out a lineup that abides by the Turkish Super League’s foreigner cap. One of the best examples of his play was during the Besiktas match in week eight. His dashing run into the box exposed the Besiktas right flank and set up a simple tap in for striker Emmanuel Emenike. I can’t remember one performance where he’s let the side down this season.
There have been several instances where Fenerbahce fans, whether in the stands or through social media have insisted that Ismail Kartal should quit. Some have criticized some of his substitutions in games. However, many of the subs have been in situations where Fenerbahce needed to grind out a result by being defensive. This is his first major job of any kind after being an assistant coach for the last four seasons and the team seems to be coming together nicely. The players appear to be enjoying the manager’s leadership. Whether Kartal will become the coach going forward after this season remains to be seen, even if he does lead the team to their 20th league title.
Two injuries complicate things for Fenerbahce. Korkmaz is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Recently, Gonul has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the groin, which will sideline him for about three weeks. With no natural right-back to replace Gonul, it may make things difficult. Emre Belozoglu suffered a hamstring strain during week eight and is yet to return.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
It’s been a relatively solid start the campaign for Fenerbahce, after navigating through a tricky fixture list to find themselves in a position of authority. If the side can stay injury-free then they will have every opportunity of lifting yet another Super League trophy.
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