‘Headless’ Lions face moment of truth against Atletico in Madrid

Galatasaray has been all over the place recently. The Lions, who scooped a “domestic double” last season, are indeed a far cry from the Lions of yesteryear ahead of the Madrid clash.

Galatasaray hired former striker and coach Mustafa Denizli on Monday to take over the reins of the flagging team, but the 66-year-old stated categorically he will not assume duty until after Wednesday’s game.

So the Lions, as was the case in the domestic league match against Antalyaspor on Saturday night that ended 3-3, will be led by specialist goalkeeper coach Claudio Taffarel. This in the true sense means the former Brazil and Galatasaray keeper can better train people who catch the ball with their hands than those who play it with their feet.

Taffarel’s belated and wrong substitutions cost the Lions two vital points on Saturday, a result that left the team trailing leader Besiktas by seven points after only 12 weeks.

To make a bad situation even worse, Galatasaray will be missing captain and playmaker Selcuk İnan as well as star striker Burak Yılmaz — two of the best on the team — who are suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.

The Lions have not won a single match in their last three consecutive outings in all competitions. They were beaten 2-1 away by Benfica in a Champions League group game, lost 4-3 away to struggling Rizespor in the domestic league and drew 3-3 with newcomer Antalyaspor at home on Saturday. Against Rize and Antalya, the Lions were leading while the games went into stoppage time. But they conceded two last-gasp goals to lose to Rize and one to draw with Antalya.

Judging from their last three matches, the Lions have a porous defense and their confidence is at a low. The players lack physical stamina, have run out of ideas and seem to have forgotten the art of winning. Only Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera stands out in the team but he, too, has his limitations.

Taffarel himself is aware of the team’s defense woes and implied on Saturday there was little he could do to remedy the situation in this short period of time.

“We have had problems with defense [all along] and this is an issue the new coach will have to address,” the Brazilian said after the game against Antalyaspor.

Despite all odds, the Lions are in dire need of victory to keep their very slim hopes of progressing from Group C. But it is a tall order indeed. The way things stand at the moment, it appears Galatasaray and Astana may be battling for third place and a berth in the second-tier UEFA Europa League.

Atletico relaxed

A draw at home to Galatasaray will send Atletico through to the last 16 with a game to spare. But Diego Simeone’s men, who leapfrogged Real Madrid into second place in the La Liga over the weekend, will not be playing for a draw at all. This would only make Galatasaray’s job all the more difficult.

Sunday’s 1-0 win at Real Betis lifted Atletico above Real Madrid into second place in the La Liga and it is four points behind leader and champion Barcelona after 12 matches. Real was routed 4-0 at home by Barca on Saturday.

The whole team is really upbeat and brimming with confidence. “We knew we had to take the three points in this game [at Betis] because Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal didn’t win,” Brazil left back Filipe Luis said.

“Winning at a tough place to come like this gives us confidence for Wednesday’s difficult match [against Galatasaray]. We have to keep fighting because the team is improving with every game,” he added.

Despite all of Atletico’s advantages — home turf, good standing in the La Liga, better motivation, you name it — the Spaniards are taking Wednesday’s match very seriously. But can the same be said of the Lions? Kickoff is at 9:45 p.m. and the referee will be Nicola Rizzoli of Italy.

The other Group C game on Wednesday pits leader Benfica against tiny Kazakh debutant Astana in cold Kazakhstan.


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