Istanbul giants bunch together at the top of the Super Lig
Everyone loves the excitement of a title race and followers of Turkey's Super Lig are currently witnessing what might just be one of the most exciting ones ever.
With five games remaining, four teams are within three points and what is even more remarkable is the fact all four clubs are from Istanbul so not only do we have the title race playing out but also some of the oldest and bitterest rivalries in football being stoked up.
Galatasaray are currently top of the pile on 60 points with Besiktas and Istanbul Basaksehir a point behind on 59 points. In fourth place but certainly not out of it are Fenerbahce who are currently on 57 points. Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce have all been here many times before with all three having at least one title in the last four years (Besiktas have won the last two) but Istanbul Basaksehir have now thrown their hat into the rivalry and are looking to win their first major honour after finishing second last season.
As the current leaders, it's Galatasaray's title to lose but they have at least one big test to pass when they host Besiktas at the end of this month. Their fixtures aren't too bad with three of their opponents currently in the bottom half (Alanyaspor (a), Akhisarspor (a) and Yeni Malatyaspor (h)) but they have a potential banana skin on the last day of the season when they are away to seventh-placed Goztepe.
Much of Galatasaray's title push has come courtesy of the goals Bafetimbi Gomis has scored. The Frenchman has netted 26 times and also assisted on five goals. The Turkish league has become a bit of a destination for the ageing professional with all the top sides boosting older squads and Galatasaray are no different with Jason Denayer (22 years old) being the only player under the age of 26 years old to have played more than 250 minutes for the team in the league this season.
Besiktas are currently joint second with Istanbul Basaksehir and they, too, will be hopeful of winning a third successive title. Despite being behind Galatasaray their destiny is still in their own hands as five wins would take them to the title due to the fact they still have to play Galatasaray. That game is away from home so it won't be easy but if they can do it then their experience might just be enough to take them over the line although their run in is tough with only two bottom half teams left to play (Yeni Malatyaspor (h) and Osmanlispor (a)). Their other fixtures see them take on Kayserispor and Sivasspor, who are sixth and eighth respectively but both games are at home so they would be expected to win them.
Besiktas are another side with an older squad and they actually have some big-name players among their number. Ryan Babel, Pepe, Adriano, Ricardo Quaresma, Gary Medel and Alvaro Negredo are all in the squad and have a wealth of experience which should help them in the run in. Babel has been particularly impressive along with the 24-year-old Anderson Talisca. Both have scored 12 goals and set up four and will no doubt be important in the run in. Much like Galatasaray, they don't have a lot of young players and the two players in their squad who are under 24-years-old have only combined for a grand total of 24 minutes which just goes to show how important experience has become in Turkish football.
In many ways Istanbul Basaksehir will be considered the underdogs as they don't have the history that the other three, but they could consider themselves unlucky not to have broken their duck last season when they finished runners-up to Besiktas. Basaksehir don't have any of the top sides left to play so if the Galatasaray - Besiktas game ends in a draw they could be set to pounce. Three of their remaining fixtures are against top half sides but all three are at home (Kayserispor, Sivasspor and Kasimpasa) while their two games against bottom half sides are away (Osmanlispor and Antalyaspor).
Like their rivals, Basaksehir have quite an old squad with 23-year-old, Joseph Attamah, the only member of the squad under 28-years-old who has played more than 1000 minutes. Basaksehir have a few big stars in their squad with Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Emre, Gokhan Inler and Arda Turan all at the club. With that experience in their ranks, there's no reason why Basaksehir won't push for the title but they will have to rely on other results going their way.
Fenerbahce haven't won the title since the 2013/14 season but they are certainly still in the race to end that run this season. With three teams ahead of them they need a bit of help but with the gap only being three points to top of the table, Galatasaray there's no reason why they can't overturn it. Of all the teams in the title race Fenerbahce have the easiest run-in with none of their remaining opponents being in the top eight of the Super Lig. They have Antalyaspor, Bursaspor and Konyaspor to play at home while they will travel to take on Kasimpasa and Kardemir Karabukspor.
As is becoming the fashion in the Super Lig, Fenerbahce are another team with an older squad. No Fenerbahce player who has played over 800 minutes for the club is under 27-years-old which follows the patterns set at all the other title contenders. Fenerbahce have a few big names but by far their best player this season has been former France international, Mathieu Valbuena. He's is a very neat and tidy footballer and he has helped his team into this title race with five goals and nine assists.
With the title race so tight it's tough to make a call on who will come out on top. Galatasaray and Besiktas have it in their own hands, while Istanbul Basaksehir's schedule has worked out well with the tougher teams to play at home which is a similar story to Fenerbahce. However, the race is likely to come down to what happens when Galatasaray and Besiktas meet and if those two take points away from each other that might just open the door for Basaksehir to well and truly turn Istanbul's big three into a big four.