Galatasaray v Barcelona
Thursday 17 March, 17:45
Live on BT Sport
Gritty Gala are still in with a shout
I must admit I was surprised by how Galatasaray were able to dig in at Camp Nou in the first leg. Goalkeeper Inaki Pena, who is on loan from Barcelona after finding his first-team pathway blocked, produced a stunning display. At the other end, the in-form Bafetimbi Gomis had a goal ruled out for a tight offside, with Kerem Akturkoglu nearly crowned a magnificent solo run with a goal, only to see his deflected strike narrowly miss the target.
The performance was all the more eye-catching when you consider Gala’s unimpressive domestic form. They are 11th in the Turkish Super Lig, although they did beat Istanbul rivals Besiktas 2-1 at the weekend with an Akturkoglu brace.
Despite the rearguard action against his former club Barcelona, coach Domenec Torrent wants to attack. Gala have scored at least once in eight of their last ten matches, but they are yet to keep a clean sheet at home in 2022.
Arda Turan won’t feature against his former club because of injury, while Sacha Boey could replace Omar Elabdellaoui at right-back. The fact that Elabdellaoui is even back in action is remarkable, after he suffered a serious eye injury due to an accident with a firework.
Numbers on the pitch better than those off it
Until this season, Barcelona fans were used to being rendered wide-eyed by the agility and trickery of Lionel Messi. After a summer of financial strictures that saw the Argentinean idol tearfully leave Camp Nou, it is the fiscal agility of sporting director Mateu Alemany that has come to the fore. Somehow, a club with staggering debts of over a billion euros was able to bring in talented recruits in consecutive transfer windows, and the return of the prodigal son Xavi as coach has reinvigorated the club.
Ousmane Dembele, who went from being “someone who can be the best in the world in his position” according to Xavi to a player that was benched for refusing to sign a new contract, is back in favour. Pedri, after being driven into the ground by club and country, is back and sparkling. Adama Traore, back on home turf, looks like the old-school wing wizard we knew he could and should be. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, jettisoned by Arsenal after a dispute that didn’t reflect well on either side, was described by Xavi at the weekend as a “gift from heaven.”
Barcelona have won seven of their last ten games in all competitions, and they overcame a very good Napoli side in the playoff round of this tournament. Xavi’s team hasn’t lost since they crashed out of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Club at San Mames in January.
Memphis and Traore could come back into the starting XI, as Xavi shuffles his pack ahead of the weekend’s Clasico at Real Madrid. Gavi may return after suspension, but Gerard Pique in struggling after seemingly picking up a groin strain during the 4-0 win over Osasuna.
Gala to go down fighting
Xavi is taking this tournament seriously, as he has the chance to win a major European trophy in his first season as Barca coach. While I don’t think we’ll see his best side, it should be strong enough to find a way to get through to the last eight.
It’s asking a lot for Gala to batten down the hatches again, but it’s worth remembering that they did pose a threat in attack, and I think Both Teams To Score is the way to go here at 2.01/1. That’s paid out in eight of Gala’s last ten competitive matches, and it’s worth noting that on their travels, Barcelona have managed just two clean sheets in their last 14 away games.
I’ll go a step further by using the Sportsbook’s Bet Builder to combine BTTS with Barcelona to qualify at a price of 2.285/4.
Traore to provide?
Adama Traore caused plenty of problems for Galatasaray last week, and the fact he wasn’t involved at all against Osasuna suggests he’ll start in Istanbul. If he does, back him at 15/8 in the Anytime Assist market. In his last six starts, the former Wolves wideman has teed up four goals, including a couple in the 4-2 win at Napoli.