Istanbul Başakşehir form, tactics, likely team and pedigree: what Hearts can expect
Istanbul Başakşehir will arrive in Edinburgh today bristling with intent and brimming with confidence going into the Europa Conference League Group A opener against Hearts at Tynecastle Park.
UEFA has banned Emre Belozoglu from carrying out his duties as manager for the match, but that is unlikely to knock the Turkish side off their stride too much after such a positive start to the season. Assistant coach Erdinc Sözer will take up any slack.
Unlike Swiss champions FC Zurich, who knocked Hearts out of the Europa League play-off despite being bottom of their domestic league, Başakşehir are in a rich vein of form.
They have made their way through three rounds of qualifiers, knocking out Maccabi Netanya of Israel, Breidablik Kópavogur of Iceland and Royal Antwerp of Belgium to reach the group stage of the Conference League and have recorded three straight wins in their own domestic league.
Sitting fourth in the Turkish Super Lig with 10 points from four games, overall they are unbeaten in the ten domestic and European matches they have played this season.
Germany international Mesut Özil is the most recognisable name in the squad, but the former Arsenal and Real Madrid star has had a grand total of 13 minutes on the pitch in two substitute appearances since his summer signing from Fenerbahçe. He hasn’t been missed.
As a club, Başakşehir don’t have a distinguished European history. They first reached the highest level in Turkish football as recently as 2007/08. But they have been a force to be reckoned with in Turkey over recent years, qualifying for Europe for the first time five years ago, reaching the group stage of the Europa League in 2017/18 and 2019/20, progressing the second time and making it as far as the last 16.
They also won the Turkish Super Lig for the first time in 2019/20, the best season in their history, and reached the Champions League group stage the following year in 2020/21.
They finished bottom of a tough group that included Manchester United, Paris St Germain and RB Leipzig, picking up three points with a home win 2-1 home over the English team. This is how they line up.
SQUAD & TACTICS
Başakşehir have a big squad, with an average age of nearly 27. It includes four Turkey internationals and experienced, seasoned campaigners and internationals from a variety of nations.
They have lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation in most games this season and last, and it can quickly become a more attack-minded 4-3-3 when needed. It is a system that has served them well and there is no reason to suspect that they will change it at Tynecastle.
What is very apparent from their team selections this season is that Belozoglu prefers some players for domestic games and others in Europe.
That said, Volkan Babacan is the undisputed No 1. The 34-year-old Turkish international, who has 34 caps, has made more than 200 appearances for the club, who he joined in 2014. He has recorded five clean sheets in nine appearances this season, making him a difficult man to beat.
Başakşehir play with a back four but have used different personnel for European games. Two experienced Brazilian full-backs have started all four Süper Lig games, but the club’s experienced Turkey internationals have played in their last four European matches.
Right-back Sener Özbayrakli, a 32-year-old with 19 caps for Turkey who joined from Galatasaray last summer, hasn’t featured in the league but has started their last four Europa Conference qualifiers.
The same is true of left-back Hasan Ali Kaldirim, also 32, who has 35 caps and arrived from Fenerbahce two years ago.
Léo Duarte, another Brazilian, is the first-choice right centre-back. The 26-year-old joined from AC Milan, initially on loan in January 2021 before being made permanent in the summer. Milan signed him from Flamengo, but he didn’t establish himself in Serie A. He has started all but two of Başakşehir’s 10 European and domestic games this season.
His partner is expected to be Youssouf Ndayishimiye. The 23-year-old Burundi international joined the club from fellow Turkish top-flight side Malatyaspor in February last year and is the team’s only ever-present this season.
As for alternative options, experienced Brazilian right-back Júnior Caiçara, 33, has been at the club for five and a half years, joining from Schalke 04 in Germany.
Left-back Lucas Lima, 30, is an attacking Brazilian full-back with two assists to his name in the Turkish league this season already. He spent three years at Nantes and then two seasons at Al-Ahli Saudi before joining Başakşehir last summer.
Ahmed Touba, a French-born Algerian international signed in the summer from Dutch side RKC Waalwijk, provides centre-back cover. The 24-year-old was brought up in Belgium and came through the ranks at Club Brugge. Veteran Moldovan international Alexandru Epureanu is another back-up at Başakşehir’s disposal.
Başakşehir play with a holding midfielder in front of the back four. The anchorman role is often filled by 36-year-old Argentina international Lucas Biglia, who can count AC Milan, Lazio and Anderlecht among his former clubs and has 66 caps. He joined in the summer from Karagümrük, but his game time has been managed so far with two starts and two substitute appearances. He completed his first full 90 minutes in the league on Saturday.
The two central midfielders in front tend to be club captain Mahmut Tekdemir and fellow Turkey international Berkay Özcan. Tekdemir, 34, is a one-club man with more than 450 appearances under his belt. A Turkey international with 22 caps, he is the heartbeat of the club and operates either as the anchor man or in front but in more of a defensive role.
Özcan, 24, is a Turkey international with six caps who was born in Germany and joined Başakşehir from Hamburg three years ago, initially on loan before the deal was made permanent. He has two goals and an assist from six starts in Europe and domestically this season.
Özil is the most recognisable name in the Başakşehir squad, arriving in the summer after a year at Fenerbahce, who he joined a year earlier from Arsenal.
But the 33-year-old has barely featured since his arrival and wasn’t in the squad at the weekend. Özil missed the start of the season due to injury and has had just 13 minutes on the pitch in two substitute appearances since then.
Serbian international Danijel Aleksic, 31, is a strong alternative in central midfield, scoring five goals already this season despite being in and out of the team. He arrived from Al-Ahli Saudi three years ago and has previously played in Italy, France, Germany and Poland. He made his Serbia debut at 17 but has only earned one cap since, coming on for eight minutes against Lithuania four years ago.
No-one has nailed down the right wing slot for Başakşehir this season. Bertrand Traoré, who last week joined on loan from Aston Villa and made a goal-scoring debut from the bench on Saturday, has been brought in to strengthen that position. The 26-year-old previously played for Chelsea, Ajax and Lyon and could be in contention for his first start.
Turkey international Serdar Gürler, 30, has made three starts in that position but hasn’t featured in Europe. Ömer Ali Sahiner, 30, has also played there a couple of times.
Deniz Türüc, a Turkish international born and brought up in the Netherlands, is also in contention. The 29-year-old, who joined from Fenerbahce but came through the ranks at FC Twente, has one goal from five starts and three substitute appearances.
Mounir Chouiar is expected to start on the left wing. The right-footed 24-year-old Frenchman joined from Dijon in his homeland in the summer, but spent last season on loan to Malatyaspor in Turkey. He already has four assists and two goals this season from seven starts and three sub appearances.
Italy international Stefano Okaka, 33, has been the first choice striker in Europe this season, starting all six games and scoring twice. Powerful and direct, he has been used sparingly in the league, making his first start on Saturday before being taken off in the 72nd minute. Okaka, who has five caps, joined from Udinese a year ago and his previous clubs include Watford, Andrelcht, Parma, Roma and Fulham.
Polish striker Patryk Szysz, was signed in the summer from Zaglebie Lubin, is left footed but has played on the right and as the central striker this season. The 24-year-old has one goal to his name in four Süper Lig starts this season, but has been used as a late sub in every European game.
Senegal striker Philippe Keny, 23, also scored on his first appearance of the season as a late sub on Saturday.