Beşiktaş’ UEFA Champions League Group B preview

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Updated: September 11, 2016

In collaboration with “Il Napolista”, “Futbol Ukraine” and “Planet Benfica”, Beşiktaş International have taken a closer look at Beşiktaş’ Champions League group.

The Black Eagles will be facing Portugal’s Champions SL Benfica, The Ukraine’s Champions Dynamo Kyiv and the Italian runners-up SSC Napoli. A tough group no doubt, but perhaps also a group which offers possibilities. We’ll take a closer look at the strengths, weaknesses, tactics and key players of each of our opponents, insights provided by experts on each team.

SL BENFICA

(by David Pritchett)

David Pritchett is the Editor-in-Chief of “Planet Benfica”. Founded in 2006, the site connects Benfica fans in the UK and other English-speaking countries, and enables people who are not fluent in Portuguese to keep track of events at the club.

BENFICA

After back-to-back Europa League finals in 2012/13 and 2013/14 and a disappointing fourth place finish in the Champions League group stages during the 2014/15 season, Benfica had an impressive run in the Champions League last season knocking out Zenit St.-Petersburgin the 1/8 finals and ultimately reaching the quarter-finals, narrowly missing out on the semi-finals after losing 3-2 on aggregate against Bayern München. In the Portuguese league Benfica ultimately came out on top of the thrilling title race with Sporting CP following an impressive second half of the season.

Typical starting XI: Júlio César; Grimaldo – Jardel – Lindelöf – Almeida; Rafa – Horta – Fejsa – Pizzi; Jonas – Mitroglou

Strengths:

Benfica have fantastic squad depth, with two or three quality players in almost every position. If required, the team can be rotated without having a massive impact on the standard of the starting eleven, or on the way that the team plays.
Benfica striker Jonas has had an extraordinary 2015/16 season behind him with 34 goals in all competitions, but starts off the new season with some injury woes

Benfica striker Jonas has had an extraordinary 2015/16 season behind him with 34 goals in all competitions, but starts off the new season with some injury woes

Almost every Benfica player is technically gifted and comfortable on the ball, so expect plenty of one-touch passing and neat little triangles in front of the defence. There is also plenty of pace in the side, so watch out for some lightning fast counter-attacks.

Another strength is Benfica’s team spirit. Head coach Rui Vitória is constantly stressing that the team is more important than the individual, and everyone seems to have bought into this philosophy. There really is no substitute for a happy dressing room, and Benfica certainly have one at the moment.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the current squad is the number of ex-youth players that have broken into the first team. This is one of the most notable differences between Vitória and his predecessor, Jorge Jesus. Players like Victor Lindelöf, Nélson Semedo, Gonçalo Guedes and André Horta clearly love playing for the club, and it shows in their performances.

Notable weaknesses:

The two areas where the squad is weakest are central midfield and central defence. Benfica’s first-choice central defensive pairing of Jardel and Lindelöf is rock solid, and a match for most teams in Europe, but their replacements are not at the same level.
Lisandro López is prone to positional errors and rash challenges, and has a nasty habit of losing his man at set-pieces. Luisão is a club legend, but age has finally caught up with him. He is sluggish and slow on the turn, and his concentration is not what it used to be.
Benfica are also slightly light in the middle of the park, having only registered four central midfielders for the Champions League. Ljubomir Fejsa is a brilliant ball-winning midfielder, but is extremely injury prone. His understudies are Andreas Samaris and Guillermo Celis, neither of whom inspire the same level of confidence. The former suffered a chronic loss of form last season, and the latter is completely new to European football.
André Horta has excelled in the number 8 role, but at 19 years of age, there is a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.
Rui Vitória has been hugely successful as Benfica coach, and I’m one of his biggest fans, but I’m still not sure if he has a Plan B. His preferred 4-4-2 formation works wonders in the Portuguese league, but against top quality opposition, the team can get overrun in midfield. Does Vitória have the nous and the guts to tinker with his system in a big European game?

Notable changes compared to last season:

Nico Gaitán was sold to Atlético Madrid for €25 million, and Renato Sanches signed for Bayern Munich for €35 million (rising to a possible €80 million with bonuses). The club has re-invested some of this money very shrewdly, exercising their transfer option on Kostas Mitroglou, and acquiring the remainder of Raúl Jiménez’s economic rights.
Despite Gaitán’s departure, Benfica have a raft of options on the flanks, having recruited five wingers over the summer, including André Carrillo, Rafa Silva and Franco Cervi.
André Horta, Guillermo Celis and Danilo have been brought in to bolster the midfield, although the latter has not been registered for the Champions League. Most Benfiquistas feel that the squad is still one player short in the number 8 position.

Key players:

Benfica’s squad is so deep and the team spirit is so strong that it seems a shame to highlight individuals. Then again, there are four players that are virtually irreplaceable. Jonas is a lethal finisher, but he is more than just a goalscorer; he is the team’s creative hub. Fejsa is the rock that shields the defence and allows the rest of the team to express themselves. Jardel and Lindelöf are both warriors that would bleed for the cause.

Tactical approach:

Rui Vitória favours a fairly straightforward 4-4-2 formation, with one holding midfielder, one box-to-box midfielder, a creative second striker, and one centre-forward spearheading the attack. When Benfica have the ball, the holding midfielder drops deep, allowing the full-backs to roam forward and join the attack. Besiktas’ wingers will need to get back to support their own full-backs, or they could be overwhelmed on the flanks.

Group prediction:

Group B is one of the most evenly-matched in the competition, and I expect it to be tightly-contested. Besiktas and Dynamo Kyiv were two of the stronger teams from Pots 3 and 4, and to make things even more difficult, both away games will involve long journeys to hostile stadiums. Napoli are a formidable team packed with talented players. Nothing should be taken for granted, but I expect Benfica to progress to the knockout stages, perhaps in second place behind Napoli.

 

SSC NAPOLI

(By Massimiliano Gallo)

Massimiliano Gallo is a native of the city of Naples and the Editor of “Il Napolista”, one of the best news sources on SSC Napoli on the web!

NAPOLI

 

For the seventh consecutive season Napoli have managed to qualify for Europe. A record for the club that hasn’t even been matched during the glory days with Diego Armando Maradona. Runners-up in the league behind Juventus last season, Napoli are taking part int he Champions League for the third time since reaching the 1/8 finals in 2011, getting knocked out by eventual winners Chelsea FC. For quite a while there it looked like Napoli were going to pull an upset in the domestic Italian league by trumping Juventus from their throne, but ultimately had to bow out of the title race and finished the season in second place, which is still an impressive performance.

Typical starting XI: Reina; Hysaj – Albiol – Koulibaly – Ghoulam; Allan – Jorginho – Hamsik; Callejon – Milik – Mertens (Insigne).

Strengths:

Dominating possession and creating a high tempo with fast paced passing combinations are Napoli’s biggest weapons. Using both the flanks and the center to launch attacks. They are a team who are always looking to play attractive attacking football, following the philosophy of their coach whom said: «I could never play like Atlético de Madrid». Napoli aren’t a side that leaves their flank open, as they attack with many players but rarely leave themselves vulnerable in defensive. The central defensive couple is formed by Albiol and Koulibaly, for whom Chelsea even offered 55 million euros.

Notable weaknesses:

Paradoxically, one of Napoli’s weaknesses is their playing style’s nature that sees its keys in Jorginho, the central midfielder, and Hamsik. More and more the opponents’ coaches try to block Napoli’s source of creativity with a men marking game on Jorginho. Especially in Europe, the skyblues could suffer from  their weak physical traits in midfield: Allan, Jorginho and Hamsik aren’t three giants. And in recent times goal-keeper Reina is also beginning to show some hesitations. It will also be coach Sarri’s debut in the Champions League.

Notable changes compared to last season:

The main change is without any doubt Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Juventus after they matched his 94 million euro buyout clause this Summer following his shattering of the Serie A topscoring record with 36 goals.

Napoli replaced Higuain with Ajax and Poland International striker Arkadiusz Milik. He will be, alongside Manolo Gabbiadini, the one that has to guide the offensive line of the club. The starting eleven has not changed much apart from Higuain’s departure despite spending over 100 million euros during the past transfer window. Transfer funds were mainly used to bring in depth to the roster with the transfer of many promising youngsters: Maksimovic and Tonelli in defense, Zielinski, Rog and Diawara and the experienced Giaccherini in midfield and finally Milik as the new striker.

Key players:

Belgian International Dries Mertens will be just one of a plethora of players to watch out for while facing SSC Napoli

Belgian International Dries Mertens will be just one of a plethora of players to watch out for while facing SSC Napoli

Three players, one for each role. Kalidou Koulibaly, central defender with an overflow of physical strength, able to make extraordinary rescues. Sometimes, but sometimes he has the occasional brainfart. Marek Hamsik, the captain: excellent technique and vision but sometimes let down by his passionate behavior on the pitch (which he has been working on). José Callejon, the player that any coach would like to have: he knows how to exploit and find space, works hard and finds the way to the back of the net easily.

Tactical approach:

Mauricio Sarri’s favourite formation is 4-3-3. A style that uses Napoli’s strengths on the wings, with Callejon, Mertens and Insigne, and that brought captain Marek Hamsik back in the heart of the gameplay after two tactically difficult years under Rafa Benitez. Napoli’s football is as simple as spectacular. Close-range passes, but not in Barcelona’s tiqui-taca model, always looking for depth and acceleration. The metronome is Jorginho, he’s the one who dictates the pace of the game. The offensive wings are fundamental..

Group predictions:

This Champions League group is really balanced. My predictions could start from the four original slots. Benfica are favourites, they have played (and lost) back to back Europa League finals in recent years. I expect Napoli and Dynamo Kyiv to be the main contenders for second place that guarantees qualification to the 1/8 finals. Beşiktaş could provide sparks of surprise, especially when they play at home.

DYNAMO KYIV

(by Steven Kalkan)

Steven is one of the main contributors to the “Futbol Ukraine” news account on Twitter, one of the best sources of information on football in the Ukraine in English. For the past five years he has resided in Canada after living in both Kharkiv and the Donbas area in Ukraine.

DYNAMO KYIV

After gathering an impressive 11 points during the Champions League group stages last season, Dynamo Kyiv exited the tournament after a 1-3 defeat on aggregate at the hands of Manchester City. Domestically Dynamo Kyiv dethroned Mircea Lucescu’s Shakthar Donetsk for the second straight year once again establishing their dominance in the Ukraine after a golden age for their rivals Shakthar during the previous decade. 

Typical starting XI: Shovkovskiy; Danilo Silva – Khacheridi – Vida – Antunes; Sydorchuk – Rybalka – Harmash – Yarmolenko – Gonzalez; Moraes

Strengths:

Dynamo has an organized central midfield, as well as their key player Yarmolenko on the right wing, capable of providing a big threat to the opposition. Guided by club icon Serhiy Rebrov, Dynamo will play a balanced style of football, relying on counterattacks through Yarmolenko. Although a forward during his playing days, Rebrov does not favour a particularly more attacking style.

Notable weaknesses:

With a lot of Summer departures, Dynamo Kyiv are lacking the squad depth needed to succeed in the Champions League. Dragovic’s departure will have an effect on Dynamo, leaving a big void in defence, and no quality backup defenders. Dynamo’s incoming players have really struggled to make an impact thusfar to the side, with both Gromov and Hladkiy expected to play a fringe role.

Notable changes compared to last season:

Nine first-team players departed Dynamo Kyiv this summer, while only two joined. Although departing players such as Mbokani, Belhanda and Bertoglio were not expected to play a big role in the first team this season, this has diminished Dynamo’s options. This will affect Dynamo’s success as there is a lack of squad depth, with a big gap in terms of ability and overall quality between the typical starting eleven and the bench. Dynamo’s lack of transfer activity will probably cost them this season, and I except the team to struggle in Group B.

Key players:

Dynamo Kyiv's Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko will be the main man to watch during the double clash with the Ukrainian Champions

Dynamo Kyiv’s Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko will be the main man to watch during the double clash with the Ukrainian Champions

Andriy Yarmolenko is a player known by many fans across Europe already. Yarmolenko will dictate the pace of Dynamo’s game, using his ability on the ball to create a threat for the opposition’s defence. Dynamo will always seek to rely on him as part of their game, with much of their attacks occurring on the right side. Over-reliance can cost the team, especially with Yarmolenko not always tracking back to defend. Yarmolenko is also looking to use the Champions League as a stepping stone to earn a high profile move to a European club and will be extremely motivated to prove himself once again. Junior Moraes, Dynamo’s current top scorer this season with four goals. He has struggled to find the net the past few games, however he’s always a threat to the opposition. Yevhen Khacheridi is a leader of Dynamo’s defensive line. His excellent physical ability allows him to have an edge over his opponent. Clumsy and at times slow on the ball are one of his major weaknesses however and could lead to loss of possession.

Tactical approach:

The current formation is a more attacking 4-3-2-1, with two attacking midfielders. Dynamo Kyiv will be looking to exploit the opposition’s left wing through Yarmolenko and strike quickly on the counter attack.

Group prediction:

I expect Benfica to top the group. With a few key players leaving Benfica this summer, and others currently out through injury, Benfica will have a shaky start. However, they will bounce back to narrowly finish ahead of Napoli who I think will come in second in Group B. With Higuain departing, Napoli will face a challenge replacing their former star man. Milik will struggle to match Higuain’s 36 Serie A goal performance last season. I expect Dynamo Kyiv will finish in third place, thus qualifying for the Europa League Round of 32. Dynamo’s key rival for third place will be Beşiktaş, who they will go toe to toe with until the very end. And finally I expect Beşiktaş will finish in last place. With the departures of key players Mario Gómez, José Sosa and Gökhan Töre I think Besiktas will struggle in this competitive group.

BEŞİKTAŞ JK

(by Kaan Bayazit)

Kaan is the Editor of “Beşiktaş International”, the best source on the Black EAgles in English. He resides in Belgium and also frequently writes for World Soccer Digest (Japan) about both Turkish and Belgian football.

bjk

Beşiktaş have been absent fromt he Champions League for 7 years and have spent the past two seasons battling in the Europa League. Reaching the round of 16 during the 2014/15 aftering knocking out Liverpool on penalties in the round of 32 and ultimately getting knocked out themselves by Club Brugge. But last season they did not manage to survive the group stages despite only losing one match on the final matchday away against Sporting CP.

Typical starting Xi: Tolga Zengin; Gökhan Gönül – Marcelo Guedes – Luiz Rhodolfo – Adriano Correia; Atiba Hutchinson – Gökhan Inler – Oguzhan Özyakup; Ricardo Quaresma – Caner Erkin – Cenk Tosun.

Strengths:

Beşiktaş have really improved their squad depth over the Summer transfer window. Apart from the central defender position they have atleast two quality players for pretty much every field position. Their strength also lays in the ability to be dangerous across both the left and right wing aswell s the center of the pitch. With Caner Erkin’s pinpoint crosses on the left, Quaresma’s crosses on the right and Oguzhan Özyakup’s creative spark in the center of midfield they can create danger from any angle. Despite the departure of key man Mario Gómez up front the Black Eagles have thusfar not struggled to find the back of the net and continue their tremendous form in front of goal from last season with Cenk Tosun spearheading the attack.

Notable weaknesses:

It’s really quite simple, the man who has cost them dearly in Europe for the past two seasons and who is ironically also the captain, goalkeeper Tolga Zengin, is the main weakness of the team. His good relationship with coach Senol Güneş has thusfar saw to it that he has kept his number one spot to the chagrin of the fans. On his line Tolga is a decent goalkeeper, but never exceptional. His major weakness however lays in his horrendous footwork and overall distribution. He’s also very slow to come off his line and is unable to take the pressure off of his defence due to these major flaws.

Besiktas star Oğuzhan Özyakup will make his UEFA Champions League debut

Beşiktaş star Oğuzhan Özyakup will make his UEFA Champions League debut, a huge chance for him to showcase his quality to Europe’s elite

Apart from the goalkeeper another weakness is the lack of depth in the central defender position. Luiz Rhodolfo is the anchorman but suffered a severe knee injury last February and is not yet 100% fit. In his absence Marcelo Guedes was brought in by Hannover and he’s done a good job but he can be prone to nonchalance. Dusko Tosic has done a decent job covering for Rhodolfo in the second half of last season but he’s certainly not up to the Champions League standards. While the same could be said of the 23-year old Atinç Nukan who has returned on loan after being sold to RB Leipzig last Summer. Finally Necip Uysal is someone who regularly plays in defence but he has terrible composure and is very prone to mistakes and loves making rash tackles leading to dangerous set-pieces for the opposition.

Notable changes compared to last season:

Without a doubt Mario Gómez’ departure is the most obvious one, much like Higuain’s departure at Napoli. And much like Higuain, Gómez is a player that is impossible to replace, his clinical finishing in front of goal is something you can’t find with the budget that Beşiktaş have. Despite that however the Black Eagles have a capable striker in Cenk Tosun, who so far has scored 4 goals in 3 league matches. And they also brought in FC Porto’s striker Vincent Aboubakar, who managed to bag six goals in ten Champions League appearances for his previous club.

Another departure that caught a lot of attention is that of José Ernesto Sosa, but he is much less difficult to replace. In fact with Anderson Talisca being added to the side, the Black Eagles have a different type in that position now who is much more dangerous in and around the area. Gökhan Töre, another departure which has been labelled as “major” by some, didn’t really play a major role in the team’s success last season and won’t be missed given the players brought in this Summer.

For years Beşiktaş struggled at both their left and right-back positions and those have been severely improved this Summer with the transfers of Adriano Correia (Barcelona), Gökhan Gönül (Fenerbahçe) and Caner Erkin (Inter Milan). Beşiktaş have added to their already dangerous wings with Caner Erkin who’s pinpoint crosses from the left will only create more danger combined with those of Ricardo Quaresma from the right.

Finally the transfer of Spanish goalkeeper Fabricio Agosto Ramirez is a change that is still pending, with the fans already campaigning for him to get the nod. Once the coach gives in and puts him between the sticks permanently, the major weakness of the team will be resolved.

Key players:

Quaresma's goal against Lokomotiv was his 8th total in Europe for the Black Eagles.

Ricardo Quaresma is one of the more experienced stars in the Beşiktaş squad, he’ll return to Lisbon once again after facing Sporting in last season’s Europa League with the Black Eagles

With the departure of Mario Gómez the big name on the team is without a doubt Ricardo Quaresma, who’s talent is known across Europe. But the true star of the team, the player who everything is built around is Turkish International Oguzhan Özyakup who plays as a deep lying playmaker, but could play in a slightly more offensive role in the Champions League if Hutchinson and Inler are both on the pitch. Caner Erkin is another man who a lot of danger will come from, both his crosses and set-pieces are sources of major danger of the opposition.

Tactical approach:

Beşiktaş play in a fairly straight forward 4-3-2-1 formation with usually one defensive midfielder, the playmaker (Özyakup) as a central midfielder and either Tolgay Arslan or Anderson Talisca in an offensive midfielder rolej. Although I do expect that Güneş could opt for two defensive midfielders given how impressive Gökhan Inler has been so far, with him more in a box-to-box role and Özyakup moving in to a more traditional “number 10” role.

Both the left and right wings will be sources of major danger and if both Caner and Quaresma start there will be a lot of quality crosses coming in to the area.

Group prediction:

It’s been said before simply because – atleast on paper – it’s quite obvious, this is an extremely competitive group. Traditionally Beşiktaş tend to struggle a bit with Italian opponents, but Napoli don’t play typical Italian football. Still I think Napoli could be the toughest opponent in this group, closely followed by Benfica. But honestly I rate these two at a very similar level and I expect them to battle it out for first place, although I don’t rule out a surprise by either Dynamo Kyiv or Beşiktaş. But realistically speaking Dynamo and Beşiktaş are the ones who will be fighting for that third place that would secure qualification to the Europa League. Kyiv is a team that Beşiktaş have played six times since 2002 and know relatively well. While the first and the last time these two teams met ended positively for the Black Eagles, the double confrontation in 2010/11 ended on a much more sour note. As far as Beşiktaş is concerned much will dpeend on their home form and how well it translates to Europe. So far Beşiktaş have played just 5 games at their brand new stadium, the Vodafone Arena, and have won all five scoring an average of 3,4 goals per game. If they can remain undefeated and get atleast two wins at home, they should  able to secure that third place. On the road Beşiktaş have also been performing quite well in the past few years but much will depend whether or not they can capitalize on Benfica’s current injury situation and get atleast a point on the opening matchday in Lisbon. A match I fear will come a bit too early as many new players have only just joined the team over the past two weeks. It’s a bit difficult to say whether or not Beşiktaş have the edge on Dynamo Kyiv, as many of the Ukrainian players are a mystery to me, so I’ll refrain from making any predictions. But to be fair, for Beşiktaş playing the Champions League is a major bonus at this point and it all really revolves around the money generated by that Champions League, there are no major expectations and the most important thing for them is to secure qualification to that Champions League again for next season and the only way of doing that is winning the league again. So I expect their focus to remain on the league, which doesn’t mean that they’ll be throwing in the towel.

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Kaan Bayazit

Editor-in-chief at Beşiktaş International
Freelance sports writer specialized in Turkish football and Beşiktaş. Co-host of the Black Eagles podcast. Frequently featured in World Soccer Digest Japan and many other international media outlets. Following Turkish football for close to two decades. Proud father to Aedin.
Kaan Bayazit
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