If the year was 2013, Barcelona would probably be meeting Galatasaray in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. That season the team from Istanbul was actually knocked out by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals, losing 5-3 on aggregate but beating Los Blancos 3-2 in Turkey. Barça, meanwhile, was knocked out in the semifinals by that same Madrid side. The year is 2022 though, and both of these Champions League regulars are instead meeting in the Round of 16 of the Europa League. This is still a huge clash at some of the most impressive stadiums in Europe, but it comes at a time when both clubs have seen better days. In fact, most Galatasaray fans would love to be in the Blaugrana’s position, but more on that later.
First things first, there is some bad news in the Barça squad. Dani Alves of course couldn’t be registered, and Roberto, Umtiti, Balde, and Fati are all injured. More frustratingly, Gavi is out with yellow card suspension due to a late card against Napoli. So without Gavi, it’d be a surprise not to see Busquets-Pedri-Frenkie. Yet, Nico has started just under 50% of matches this season, so don’t think he’s just some super-sub, especially if Xavi chooses to rotate Busquets again at home and keep him fresh for next week, which includes a trip to Istanbul and El Clásico a few days later. Dest will start at right-back next to Alba, Araujo, and Pique. Up top, assume we’ll see Torre-Aubameyang-Traore, but Dembele and Memphis are just as likely to start. It’s good to not have any idea. The only thing we do know is that Luuk de Jong could make a late cameo. All of these choices are difficult for Xavi, but the depth has added some stability to the Camp Nou, something that Galatasaray can’t boast.
They started the season well, but now find themselves on 35 points in the table, sitting in 12th of 20, 8 points safe from the relegation zone. So somewhat safe, but not out of the woods. The 15 points that separate them from the bottom of the table is much closer than the 31 points that separate them from top of the table Trabzonspor. Like Barça, they have never been relegated from the top division, but after losing out on the league title to Besiktas on goal differential last season, the drop for the Catalans and the drop for the nicknamed Lions is not the same. It’s hard to imagine what Culers would say if Barça were down in 12th at this point in the season.
Where Galatasaray has been successful this season is in the Europa League. They beat St. Johnstone of Scotland 5-3 on aggregate in the 3rd qualifying round, next downing Randers of Norway 3-2 on aggregate to qualify for the group stage. They finished atop their group that also included Lazio, Marseille, Lokomotiv Moscow with 3 wins and 3 draws.
Interestingly enough, Galatasaray’s current manager, Domenec Torrent, wasn’t around for any of that. Fatih Terim, who had led the Turkish giants over 500 times from the sideline, was let go in January amid terrible result after terrible result in the league. He was replaced by a man that Culers may know rather well, and Pep Guardiola fans will know even better. Torrent’s resume, primarily as an assistant, is pretty impressive. His first bigger job was as manager of Girona, before their ascension, in the 2005-06 season. Then he joined Guardiola with Barça B back in 2007, remaining his assistant up to the first team, then on to Bayern Munich, and finally to Manchester City. After the 2017-18 season though he went back to being the man, taking over NYCFC in June of 2018 and remaining in that job until November of 2019. A brief stint at Flamengo in Brazil from July of 2020 to November of 2020, definitely an interesting move for him, led to Turkey in January of this year. He has 2 wins, 2 draws, and 4 losses in 8 matches, the first 3 of which were defeats, before an okay stretch and ultimately losing again last Saturday.
Helping him sort of right the ship has been on-loan from Barcelona Iñaki Peña, who has grabbed the gloves quickly, making 5 starts already. With Torrent wanting to play out of the back, this move made sense for Peña. And with long-time Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera just coming back from a knee injury, and being more known for his shot-stopping skills than his footwork, it seems like it’s Peña’s job to lose. In front of Peña is where some of the problems lie. The back-four of – from left to right – Patrick van Aanholt, Marcão, Victor Nelsson, and Sacha Boey are individually not great at playing the ball out of the back, and it gets worse as a unit. Barça will press this group. The January loan deal for Chilean Erick Pulgar has been somewhat helpful; the defensive midfielder helping to shield the backline and adding a bit of technical ability to the position as well.
The midfield and attack in front of Pulgar is still in flux, but some names we could see are players still making a name for themselves, including Turkish winger Kerem Akturkoglu and Egyptian striker Mostafa Mohamed, who paired nicely with Mohamed Salah at the African Cup of Nations, plus Romanian Alexandru Cicaldau. We’ll also probably see some of the veterans too, whose names hold more weight than their play this season, speaking of Sofiane Feghouli and Ryan Babel, and Bafetimbi Gomis, a 36-year-old striker seeing what he has left who joined in January.
35-year-old Arda Turan is out injured and not trusted by Torrent, but if he does somehow feature, I can’t imagine he’ll get a warm welcome from the Camp Nou crowd anyway.
So now that we’ve mentioned Arda Turan, who if you say his name three times he re-signs for your club, the only thing left to do is go over the history between the clubs. They’ve met 8 times total, all in the group stages of the Champions League, and all between 1993 and 2003. Barça has won 5 of the meetings, drawing 2, and losing just one, back in the 1994-95 season.
And like every other match-up, Barça should be the favorite this time around again, but not just because of the name cache. Playing in Turkey will be tough in the return leg, but Barça is in good form right now and hitting their stride at the perfect time to get some big results in the next two weeks.
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017