Analysis of Benfica & Sporting's opponents
The Europa League takes centre stage on Thursday and both major Lisbon clubs will be hoping to take a step towards the last 16 of the competition.
In-form Benfica are in Turkey to take on Galatasaray while Sporting host Villarreal at Alvalade. PortuGOAL spoke to the man behind the excellent Turkish Football website and associated twitter account Emre Sarigul and Spanish football guru David Cartlidge for the inside track on Gala and Villarreal.
How have Galatasaray looked this season so far and how would you describe their current form?
Galatasaray have been inconsistent. They struggled over the first half of the season after failing to replace Bafetimbi Gomis 29 goals last term. Gala had just one first-choice striker until January. On top of that centre-back Serdar Aziz was thrown out the team in December after missing a game with an alleged upset stomach only to be spotted in the Maldives the following day after his wife included him in her Instagram story.
The Lions looked woefully unprepared for the Champions League, had to grind out results in the league. They had an unbalanced side with a shaky defence and just one striker available who was struggling for form. January came as a blessing, the Yellow-Reds strengthened in defence and attack. It is a miracle Fatih Terim kept his side in the title race given the state of his squad until the winter break. Galatasaray are a far better-balanced side now who are undefeated in 2019.
Ones to watch - Who are Galatasaray's star players?
Badou Ndiaye keeps everything ticking in midfield working hard on the defensive end while also contributing to attack. Sofiane Feghouli has been in great form recently. Everton loanee Henry Onyekuru is inconsistent, you never know what you are going to get but when he is up for it the young winger is difficult to play against with his pace and technical ability. Also winter addition Mbaye Diagne has 21 goals in 18 games this season.
Strong points/weak points – what must Benfica beware of and what can they exploit?
Galatasaray have been wildly unpredictable which could be both a blessing or a curse for Benfica. Generally, they are at their best at home. Turkish fans need little introduction, you can be certain there will be a raucous atmosphere. The Lions strength is their attack. This team have goals in them, they are setup to play on the front foot.
The problem is their defence. It rarely inspires much confidence. They did strengthen in January bringing in Christian Luyindama and a player Benfica fans may be more familiar with in Marcao. To be fair they have looked better of late but this will be their first major test.
Formation and playing style – what system do Galatasaray usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
Galatasaray tend to play an attacking 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, following the signing of Mbaya Diagne Fatih Terim has been using the 4-1-4-1 but the team are used to playing both.
What is the local press saying about the tie? Are Galatasaray expected to get past Benfica?
After the Champions League group stage there aren't exactly high expectations. This does play into the hands of Fatih Terim who relishes in being the underdog and creating a siege mentality.
Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Galatasaray come into the match in a confident frame of mind?
Galatasaray have convinced themselves everyone is conspiring against them, from match officials to the federation. Terim is a master of using a siege mentality to motivate the players and fans. The Lions come into the game confident, prepared for battle and with a point to prove.
Galatasaray see Benfica as the favourites and will be more focused as a result. I tend to find that Gala perform better in these scenarios as opposed to being complacent against sides they think they will beat.
What do you think the result of Thursday's match will be?
I would not be surprised if Galatasaray won the game but shot themselves in the foot conceding an away goal.
Our thanks to Emre Sarigul for his fantastic insight. To keep abreast of everything Turkish football follow Emre on Twitter @Turkish_Futbol1
How do you explain Villarreal being in relegation trouble after qualifying for Europe last season?
To some extent it has been a surprise, in that the sense they've actually been atrocious at times. However, some issues were expected once they had finished their summer recruitment. The squad looked unbalanced, but most of all the problematic defence wasn't addressed. They took the wild step of bringing back the manager they initially started the season with, then sacked. It pretty much summed up the level of disarray the club found themselves in.
What about current form? Have they picked up in recent weeks?
Not in the slightest. They are still suffering in defence, while in attack they certainly aren't as profound as Villarreal sides of previous years. Many associate Villarreal with high tempo attacking football, lots of interchanging of passes and sharp movements. It's simply not the case anymore. They are if anything a bit clumsy and...bland.
Ones to watch – who are Villarreal's star players?
Two players come to mind. Firstly Pablo Fornals. He very much makes Villarreal tick and is a whirring presence in midfield, picking up the ball deep, with the aim of using it intelligently. He pushes the team on and is the core of the team. Then there is Samuel Chukuweze. He's a young Nigerian winger, very raw but explosive and dangerous. Sporting will need to pay attention to him when gathering the ball out wide. He's direct, and will look to drive, get one v one opportunities.
Strong points/weak points – what must Sporting beware of and what can they exploit?
Villarreal's defence is extremely weak. They can fold under the slightest amount of pressure, and lack any real organisation there. They do have a good goalkeeper in Sergio Asenjo, perhaps one of the most underrated in Europe, but all too often he's left exposed.
As far as strong points, they do still possess a lot of quality on the break when in full flow. Chukuweze particularly doesn't mess around. He will look to use speed and skill to penetrate the Sporting backline.
Formation and playing style – what system do Villarreal usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
Javier Calleja is very fond of his 3-5-2. The wing-backs press on high, and look to get in around the back of teams. He does switch to a 3-1-4-2 at times however, especially when moving in the attacking transition.
Expectations. Despite having a wretched season, La Liga teams have a formidable record in Europe and Sporting have an awful record against Spanish sides – judging by player/coach quotes, do you think Villarreal go into the tie confident of making progress?
I don't think they're confident of much right now. Calleja in his previous spell simply didn't handle European football well and looked badly out of his depth. I can't profess to being fully aware of Sporting's situation, and can only speak for Villarreal. They are in a bad way and survival in LaLiga is their number one priority. I think this competition could be viewed as a distraction. If they don't, then they should.
What do you think the result of Thursday's match and the tie as a whole will be?
It's going to be a cagey, nervous game. Villarreal are still trying to find an identity to carry them through the rest of the season, and every game is open in that regard. I think Sporting could demolish them over the two legs, maybe 4-2.
Our thanks to David Cartlidge for sharing his expertise with us once again. For more from David and to keep close tabs on all things La Liga be sure to follow him on Twitter @davidjaca.