Real visit will be testament to Galatasaray season

Posted by Cetin Cem Yilmaz

The Real Madrid game in Istanbul was supposed to be the game of the year for Galatasaray. After Real's three goals at the Bernabeu, and then three sendings-off last week, it was demoted to being one that should be immediately gotten over with.

On Tuesday, the Lions host Real Madrid at Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi. A week ago, that was the hottest ticket in town. First, a disappointing performance and a 3-0 defeat at Santiago Bernabeu changed the air. Then came the Super Lig game against Mersin Idman Yurdu, and the sending-offs of coach Fatih Terim and his assistants, Hasan Sas and Umit Davala. In the last few days, the Real Madrid game was never the top subject.

- Train: Attack best form of defence for Real
- Video: UCL exit not an option - Mourinho
- Real braced for Istanbul 'welcome'
- Lopez: Galatasaray tie far from over

At the Ali Sami Yen on Saturday, Terim lost his temper with referee Suleyman Abay, and was ordered off the sidelines when he threw the ball to the ground to protest to a call. Later in the second half, Sas and Davala were also given their marching orders in separate occasions.

Now Galatasaray are mulling whether it would be goalkeeping coach Claudio Taffarel or trainer Duygu Erdogan, who would be the first female gaffer to lead a top-flight team in Turkey, if the coaching trio are suspended. That suspension is more than a mere possibility: Terim could be away from the touchline until the end of the Turkish football season since this was his second offense this campaign. That has been the dominant talk at Galatasaray over the weekend.

And yes, Real Madrid is coming to town. The Champions League's best-ever side visit Istanbul in its bid to claim a historic Decima. It is Galatasaray's first home game in a European quarterfinal in more than a decade.

The highest-profile game to be played at Galatasaray's new house, which they moved into in early 2011. Now, of course, there will be a boisterous home crowd and a full house to make sure that the Lions, even though they exit, exit with some noise. But it is clear Galatasaray's famous pre-game buzz is not there.

The current situation tells something about the perception of success in Turkish football, actually. From the moment Galatasaray were pitted against Real Madrid, fans slowly, and silently, raised their hopes that the Lions could upset Los Blancos at their home.

A 2-1 win, or even 3-1 would do. The 3-0 turned was not just a defeat, it was a statement. With the help of the fracas and the eventual comeback 3-1 win against Mersin Idman Yurdu, the focus immediately shifted on Super Lig.

They are still four points ahead of Fenerbahce and, as admitted by Terim, Galatasaray’s Champions League focus should be more on "playing at those levels every year" than a one good shot, so winning the domestic title is crucial for getting automatic qualification to European football's Mecca again.

However, Tuesday's game should be the testament to what Galatasaray have done all through the season, and what they are trying to build. Save for a few periods of the game, Galatasaray never rose to Real’s level and could not threaten the hosts.

After a resilient group stage performance and an epic comeback in the Schalke tie, that should not be how Galatasaray bows out of the competition.

Optimistic fans will try to believe an early goal would pave the way for a legendary comeback. Romantics will focus on positives and will appreciate every single positive on the pitch as Galatasaray host a world-class team for the first time in a competitive game (the second-string Manchester United team's visit in the group stages does not count). Bitter realists will hope there will not be another rout at home. No matter what, they will be expecting a team battling for the win.

Burak Yilmaz’s suspension could open the door for a sole forward role to Didier Drogba, who has not been deployed alone in the front since his arrival. Although they fared well in the return leg at Schalke, the trio of Burak, Drogba and Wesley Sneijder made Galatasaray too vulnerable, and a possible use of the 4-4-1-1 formation could make Galatasaray stronger. Midfielders Selcuk Inan and Felipe Melo thrived with that formation in the one and a half years before the arrival of Sneijder, and this could be a good time to experiment.

There is not much chance of experimenting at the back, with Semih Kaya and Gokhan Zan having already been guaranteed their spots with the suspension of Dany Nounkeu. Apart from the Madrid performance, Semih has been a revelation for Galatasaray in his debut Champions League season, and overall has some solid foundations to build on. He was criticized for not being as confident as he was when teaming with Tomas Ujfalusi at the back, but that has been a season to remember for the 22-year-old.

During a season when expectations once soared sky-high, the Lions should be reminded of the famous quote: "You’re only as good as your last game." Even though if they are going out, Galatasaray deserve to be remembered better than they were at the Bernabeu.

ESPN Conversations