There is only one game left in the UEFA Champions League group stage. And while we do not know the teams that will play in the Round of 16, there are a few that have clinched their berths in the knockout stages.
One of those teams is Besiktas. The reigning Turkish Super League have emerged as one of the best teams in the competitions, and have assured the top spot in Group G with 11 points in five matches. That’s quite an achievement considering they played against more experienced sides such as FC Porto and AS Monaco, as well as the surprising RB Leipzig. And they have done showing very good stretches of football on both ends of the pitch.
Here we will analyse why Besiktas have emerged as one of the best teams in the UEFA Champions League this season. And unsurprisingly, it’s because they featured a balanced team on both sides of the ball.
A strong, experienced defensive line
Solid teams usually have a strong goalkeeper, or a balanced defensive line. And Besiktas are fortunate enough to have both things in their current squad. They have been playing Fabri as the starter during the current Champions League run, and the results have paid off since Besiktas are yet to lose a game in the group stage and have allowed just four goals in five games.
The defensive line is quite good, too. Caner Erkin has been one of the best right-backs in the tournament this season, and Gökhan Gonul can also feature on that role. And if we move towards the centre, we can see that the centre-back pairing of Pepe and Dusko Tosic keeps playing better and better after each week. In case any of the two is missing, Besiktas also have Gary Medel to provide coverage. The Chile international can operate at both right-back or centre-back, and is a proven player who has starred for teams such as Sevilla and Inter Milan in the past.
And if we are talking about experience, then we can’t leave Adriano out of the equation. The former FC Barcelona left-back is not the player he once was, but there’s no question he knows a thing or two about playing on the European stage. His presence both on and off the pitch is extremely important to the side.
One of the most underrated midfield pairings in Europe
Besiktas might not have a lot of stars on their squad, and one could say they lack a quality central midfielder to truly become a contending team. However, the ones who say that clearly have not seen the team play. Besiktas have one of the most underrated central-midfield pairings in Europe, as they feature Atiba Hutchinson and Oğuzhan Özyakup in the middle of the pitch.
Hutchinson acts as the most defensive, physical presence in midfield. The former PSV player and current Canada national team member might not thrive with the ball on his feet, but there is no question he is a force to be reckoned with in midfield. He often disrupts opposing playmakers with his rare mix of strength and pace, and also tends to move himself quite well around the entire pitch. He is an experienced veteran, and his presence is key for Besiktas’ attacking players to have enough space to make an impact in the final meters.
Meanwhile, Özyakup – who started his career at Arsenal – has established himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers in Europe. The 25-year-old is reportedly a transfer target for teams such as Everton and The Gunners, and for good reason. He can defend, pass, attack, create and finish with equal ease. And also possesses an accurate touch that allows him to create spaces for himself without making too much effort. And if you watch him play closely, Özyakup is often the player who starts Besiktas’ attacks as a deep-lying playmaker.
A star-studded attacking led with creativity and effectiveness
Last but not least, we have Besiktas’ star-studded attacking unit. Senol Gunes rarely changes his tactical system, so we know what Besiktas will offer on a regular basis. An attacking midfielder playing in front of the CM duo, two inside wingers who often cut inside to free up spaces for the fullbacks pushing forward, and a central striker who can score goals at will. And each of those roles has a defined name in the current Besiktas squad.
Each of these roles has a defined name, though. Anderson Talisca plays as the attacking midfielder, Ricardo Quaresma operates on the right wing, and Ryan Babel moves on the opposite flank. Meanwhile, the striker role belongs to Cenk Tosun – another player who could make a Premier League switch soon – although Alvaro Negredo is certainly a nice option to come off the bench.
The numbers back these four players in the current Champions League campaign. Tosun leads the way with four goals and two assists, and has cemented his place as one of the most promising strikers in Europe during the past 12 months. Talisca – who scored against RB Leipzig on Tuesday – has three goals, and Babel had added two strikes with one assist. Quaresma is yet to score, but has three assists in five appearances and usually performs as the creative threat on the wing. His sole presence opens up spaces for his teammates.
As we can see, Besiktas have emerged as a balanced team on both ends of the pitch. They have proven they can compete with some of the best teams in Europe, and clinched a berth on the Round of 16 with ease. Now they have to prepare for even tougher opponents in the Round of 16, but they should be ready. They have enough talent to go toe-to-toe against any team in the world.
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