Fenerbahçe v Galatasaray: A tale of two continents
Fenerbahçe was buzzing, the streets were awash with yellow and navy blue, just about everybody in the vicinity was sporting club colours. Anyone not wearing the team colours stuck out like a sore thumb, there was absolutely no mistaking whose turf this was and there was still three hours till kick-off ahead of the Yellow Canaries Champions League qualifier against Salzburg back in August. As intense as the atmosphere was it will seem pale in comparison come Sunday when the Canaries arch rivals cross from Europe across the mouth of the Bosporus and land in Asia - welcome to one of the greatest footballing experience in Turkey; the day two continents lock horns in the Intercontinental Derby.
Galatasaray heralding from the swanky European shores of Istanbul are steeped in tradition and while the football team itself was officially founded in 1905 by students of the Galatasaray High School, there are some who claim the club is actually over 500 years old due to the elite education establishment first opening its doors back in 1481.
In contrast, the origins of Fenerbahçe are a polar opposite, the club was founded in 1907 by a group of locals from the Kadıköy district of Istanbul - where the actual area of Fenerbahçe is situated. The club was founded in secrecy to keep a low profile due to the strict Ottoman policy against Turks forming football teams. The early years of the club were spent supporting the Turkish War of Independence and resistance against the allied occupation of Istanbul. In fact till this very day Fenerbahçe take pride in defeating the British military football teams with the most notable victory being the General Harrington Cup triumph - the cup is still on show in the Fenerbahçe museum.
Back to modern day and its been a great couple of seasons for Galatasaray; under legendary - former - manager Fatih Terim the Lions won back to back league titles, two Super Cup's and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League. However, as Terim was about to find out the world of football management can be a cutthroat industry and the 60-year-old soon found himself fired and replaced by Roberto Mancini.
Mancini was thrown into the deep end and had to take over a team which Terim built, mid-way through the first half of the season just before a critical Champions League encounter with the Old Lady in Turin. The Italian coach coped well considering the circumstances and after three wins on the trot in the league and a emphatic victory over Copenhagen in Europe things were looking up. Then came Galatasaray's return to Parken Stadium - home of the Lion's UEFA Cup 2000 triumph - which looked like a good omen before the second game against Copenhagen but actually turned out quite the opposite. The Danish side ended up beating Galatasaray 1-0 which has led to a few shaky nerves going into the derby.
To make matters worse Mancini will be without Wesley Sneijder who despite a slow start to his Galatasaray career had started pulling out the stops this seasons. Perhaps even more worrying however, is the absence of Fernando Muslera. The Uruguayan international has played a key role in the Lions resurgence over the past three seasons and is irreplaceable in goal.
Mancini fielded Eray İşcan in goal against Copenhagen and despite a few good saves he didn't look comfortable dealing with aerial balls and didn't command the defence well. The absence of Sneijder forced Mancini to start with a 4-4-2 on Tuesday, Bruma and Aydın Yılmaz started on the wings while Selçuk İnan and Felipe Melo were paired together in central midfield.
The Italian coach will probably be considering a new course of action as the Galatasaray midfield looked static and giving Fenerbahçe a 3 v 2 advantage in the centre of the pitch could prove fatal.
Fenerbahçe go into the derby as the most in form team in the league, Fenerbahçe have gone from strength to strength since losing on the opening day of the season. The Canaries have won eights and drawn one of their last 9 fixtures.
Despite both sides being in good form as with any big derby the form book goes out the window - well it does unless you haven't lost since the turn of the millennia. Fenerbahçe haven't been defeated by Galatasaray in the Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium since 1999.
The Lions would love a return to the days of Ulubatlı Souness - the nickname given to Graeme Souness after he nearly sparking a riot after stabbing a large Galatasaray flag into the heart of the Fenerbahçe pitch after the Turkish Cup final victory back in 1996. The iconic image of the victor planting the flag drew comparisons with Turkish hero Ulubatli Hasan, who was killed as he planted the Ottoman flag on top of the city walls during the siege of Istanbul.
Another interesting statistic for anyone thinking of taking a punt on the game is to consider is that these derbies often get very heated. There have been 57 yellow cards and 7 sendings off in the last 9 Intercontinental derbies. There has been everything from Volkan Demirel and Sabri Sarıoğlu trying to strangle each other to Raul Meireles engaging in a spot of exhibitionism. A red mist descends onto the pitch during the derby, fights, brawls, mini riots - between rival sets of players - have been common place over recent years.
Fenerbahçe have also been through a lot of change, Ersun Yanal replaced Aykut Kocaman - who led the Canaries to the Europa League Semi-finals last season. The former Turkish national team coach got off to a wobbly start but it's been plain sailing ever since. Yanal is blessed with one of the strongest squads in Turkey, Galatasaray may just have more quality were you to compare their strongest starting XI's but chipping away at the surface reveals a different story. Where Galatasaray lack depth Fenerbahçe have plenty. The Canaries also have extra firepower in terms of their Turkish contingency which has become important in the league following the Turkish Football Federation's decision to introduce a policy restricting clubs to fielding a maximum of 6 non-Turkish players at any one time during league games.
Yanal has been playing a 4-3-3 formation heavily rotating his side especially the midfield trio. Alper Potuk, Cristian Baroni, Mehmet Topal, Mehmet Topuz, Salih Uçan have all made appearances this season. Yanal will be glad however, that Raul Meireles has recovered from his injury. The Portuguese international is one of the most experienced players on the team along and his presence will help settle nerves in midfield. Gökhan Gönül has also recovered and his availability will be a huge boost for the Canaries, the Turkish international is by far their most capable right-back.
The main stars of the show in the Fenerbahçe team have been left-back Caner Erkin and summer signing Alper Potuk. Both are hardworking players, Caner is a fast fullback who defends well, attacks with pace and has a dangerous cross - which has played a role in his 8 assists, the highest number in the league. Meanwhile 22-year-old Potuk is a dynamic midfielder who will try to harass and create chances.
Both sides have plenty of attacking options. Didier Drogba has been firing on all cylinders for Galatasaray and scored in the last derby. The Ivorian has a habit of scoring in big games and he will be joined by the reigning goal king Burak Yılmaz. The Turkish international striker hasn't been at his best this season and is lacking confidence but still has three goals as well as five assists.
Yanal has Dirk Kuyt, Moussa Sow, Emmaneul Emenike and Pierre Webo to chose from. Webo had been starting ahead of Emenike early on in the season but the Nigerian international has earned his place in the starting lineup after four goals in his last three games. The powerful striker has explosive pace and will give the shaky Galatasaray defence problems.
Mancini may be renowned as being a cautious coach but Galatasaray have been anything but. The Lions have been playing attacking football and whilst they are capable of scoring against anyone they are also just as likely to concede. Galatasaray have conceded soft goals from basic defensive errors and without Muslera in goal they could struggle against Fenerbahçe's effective set-pieces. Fenerbahçe's defence isn't watertight either and Yanal's insistence on playing a high line with not the quickest of centre backs has created problems at times. Both sides last three games have gone Over 2.5 goals and 7 of the last 9 derbies have gone Over 2.5 goals. Fenerbahçe have scored the highest number of goals in the league - 24 - and Galatasaray aren't far behind with 17. This is a clash between two sides who are far stronger going forwards than they are defending and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Over 2.5 goals trend were to continue.
The Intercontinental derby is more than a game and while that's become a bit of a cliche saying for these types of games - this really is more than a game. There are few derbies in the world which have the same history, tradition, sheer passion and fanaticism as this one - the tale of two continents colliding on the shores of the Marmara; the Intercontinental Derby.