Europa League Preview: The Lowdown On Besiktas

Liverpool may have famously beaten Besiktas 8-0 in a Champions League encounter in 2007, but I don’t know too much about their current incarnation, so I thought I’d take a look at what type of team they are, and how they have performed this season.

Beskitas are currently top of the Turkish Super Lig, though Euro Club Index currently rates them as second favourites for the title (with a 34% chance of finishing first) behind Fenerbahce (50%). When you look at their stats profile, it seems clear that they are probably overachieving in the league at the moment.

Their shot ratios (the percentage of the shots in their games that they have) are distinctly underwhelming; their figures of 53% for all shots and 58% for shots on target would likely see them finish around fifth or sixth in England, as the Champions usually post closer to 70%. Indeed, at the time of writing their total shot ratio is only the fifth best in the eighteen team Super Lig.

They also only average twelve shots per game when top sides in this country would be closer to eighteen. They do at least have the highest shot accuracy in Turkey (42%) which is just as well as they are not strong at creating chances; they have only set up 178 goalscoring opportunities (only the eleventh most in the Super Lig) whilst Fenerbahce lead the way with 271.

The key to their success seems to be that they are effective in both boxes; whilst around 10% of shots are converted on average, Besiktas have scored 13.7% of theirs whilst limiting their opponents to 8.8%.

A glimpse down their results provides evidence of this, as they have had eight shots or fewer five times this season, with their opponents having more attempts at goal every time, yet they have won four of these five games. For instance, they beat Konyaspor 2-1 despite only having five shots to their fifteen, and with the Beskitas goalkeeper making ten saves in that match. They have displayed this sort of form in the Europa League too; they had eight shots on target and allowed six in a game against Partizan Belgrade, yet won the match 4-0.

Perhaps their slightly unusual shot numbers are a result of their ability to protect leads. Besiktas have scored the first goal the joint most times in the Super Lig this season – thirteen – and they have won twelve and drawn one of these games.

Their league form certainly suggests they may aim to keep it tight at Anfield; only two teams’ away matches feature fewer goals-per-game, though Besiktas are the only team in the Turkish league who are yet to draw a blank on the road this season. The league leaders’ games also feature the second fewest shots per game of the eighteen teams in the division at present, which is further evidence of tight games and not too much in the way of entertainment.

Besiktas certainly appear well drilled at the back; they have made fewer Opta-defined defensive errors per game (0.15) than any team in the Premier League this season, and only three teams in the Turkish flight allow fewer shots per game in their penalty box. It’s interesting to note that Besiktas are ranked second in the league for tackles but third bottom for interceptions, which suggests that their defensive style may be more about physicality rather than anticipation.

Liverpool’s army of excellent dribblers can take heart from the fact that their visitors are third in their league for being dribbled past despite their fine record for tackling though, which suggests the Reds should still be able to get at them this way.

Besiktas have won nine of their ten away matches in the league, and eight of these have been by the odd goal (half have been 1-0, with half 2-1) with a single 2-0 to make up the set, so we are perhaps unlikely to see many goals on Thursday night. Their one away defeat appears to have been a blip from this pattern; there were five goals in the game (3-2) and they lost to Erciyesspor, who are third bottom and have only won three games this season.

Their default formation is 4-2-3-1, though they occasionally switch to a 1-4 in midfield; they used each formation three times in the Europa League group stage. In terms of players to watch, they will travel to Merseyside with one familiar face.

Demba Ba (whose last visit to Anfield was sadly memorable) is the top scorer in the Turkish league with thirteen, which includes three penalties, two headers and a direct free-kick, and he scored half of his side’s fourteen goals in the Europa League group stage too.

Besiktas’ top player for league assists is José Sosa, with five, and three of those have been for Ba so that might be a combination to keep an eye on. Sosa has been by their most creative player in the league this season (he is their only player to create over two chances per ninety minutes on average), and he is in the top ten players in the Super Lig for chances per game from both crosses and free-kicks (where he is joint top), so he appears to be the midfielder most likely to hurt Liverpool.

Sosa has scored three goals himself too, but their second best player (behind Ba) for total goal contribution in the Super Lig is Olcay Sahan with nine; six goals (from only twenty-six shots, which is impressive though also a small sample) and three assists.

Their first choice goalkeeper Tolga Zengin will miss the tie with Liverpool, so perhaps the Reds will be able to take advantage here, though the reserve (Cenk Gonen) does have 130 career club appearances (plus two caps for Turkey) under his belt, so it’s not as if he’s shy of experience.

Besiktas have been to England twice this season in European competition already. They lost narrowly 1-0 at Arsenal and took a point at White Hart Lane with a 1-1 draw. The Turkish league leaders had (Opta-defined) clear-cut chances in both games, and in uncharacteristic fashion outshot Spurs by twenty-four to nine in their own back yard. Liverpool will need to play well on Thursday night in order to take a lead to Turkey.

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