With Super Lig attendances at a record low in protest at the new Passolig ticketing system and president Unal Aysal announcing his intentions to step down, there has probably been more serene times at Galatasaray. Luckily, Felipe Melo was back in the team to face Roberto Carlos’ Sivasspor after earning himself a two game ban by retweeting an invite to Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim to eat his testicles.
New coach Cesare Prandelli set up in a 3-5-2 formation with Wesley Sneijder in a withdrawn role in front of the defence, while Sivasspor lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. A back three can often come unstuck against an attacking trio due to it either having an abundance or lack of cover depending on how low or high the wing-backs position themselves, but Galatasaray’s defence was organised so that it was frequently indistinguishable from a back four. Tarik Camdal played as a normal wing-back on the left, yet Veysel Sari was under less pressure to get back, with Aurelien Chedjou frequently pulling out to the right to cover, essentially playing as a right-back to allow Sari to stay higher up the pitch with Selcuk Inan helping to cover too. The strategy was no doubt helped by Aatif Chahechouhe’s insistence on coming inside off the left, which only served to narrow rather than stretch the Galatasaray back three.
The system worked from an attacking perspective too. With Sneijder drifting more towards the left he was able to pick out short balls to Inan, Blerim Dzemaili and Camdal or hit it longer to Burak Yilmaz and Olcan Adin testing the backline, while the play could always be switched to Sari high on the right. Felipe Melo was also comfortable stepping out of the backline and hit a number of noteworthy first time passes.
Nevertheless, neither goal came from these moves. The opener was a strong header from Chedjou off a set-piece and the second came from a penalty, won from a smart through ball once the ball was snatched back in midfield. Throughout the first half, Galatasaray pressed very high up the field, forcing Sivasspor into only attacking via long balls and winning possession back early.
Prandelli made a substitution at half-time, bringing on Hakan Balta for Sari and switching Camdal to the right, ditching the shifting four to five backline and simply looking to sit back and protect their lead. With Galatasaray no longer pressing as intensely, Sivasspor were finding it easy to attack and Carlos swapped midfielder Adem Kocak for striker Macauley Chrisantus early in the half to test an increasingly nervy defence.
Having two strikers against a back three would typically favour the defence, yet Galatasaray struggled to deal with the extra pressure of having one less spare man. There was a notable point around the 63rd minute where Hakan Balta stepped out to defend higher on the left and Semih Kaya moved across to cover, only to leave Chrisantus free and have to move back across, with Balta belatedly scrambling to get back. It wasn’t punished, but it was indicative of the troubles Galatasaray were having adapting. Hamit Altintop replaced Adin to strengthen the midfield but only weakened them on the counter, welcoming Sivasspor forward further.
The conservatism of Prandelli’s half-time changes meant the flow of the game was turning against them, even if the goal was conceded when they unnecessarily pushed so many up in search of a third at a corner. Chahechouhe almost halted that counter by stepping on the ball when one-on-one with the keeper, which makes the fact only one Galatasaray player that had gone up for the corner managed to make it back once Balta lost it even worse.
Galatasaray held out, although it’s difficult to tell how lucky they were. They didn’t do a great job of defending their box as the Sivasspor pressure grew and did a poor job of cutting out that supply compared to their impressive closing down in the first half. On the other hand, they had a number of excellent counters and probably would have run away with the game with some better finishing.