Galatasaray vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Tuesday, September 18, 20:00 BST/21:00 CEST – Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleks – Istanbul, Turkey
In many ways, a lot has changed for Galatasaray, but in others, they are exactly the same. They no longer have the draw to employ some of the world’s finest talent. At the turn of the century, Brazilian World Cup-winning goalkeeper Taffarel rubbed shoulders with Romanian legends Gica Popescu and Georghe Hagi and modern Turkish stalwarts Hakan Sukur, Hasan Sas and Umit Davala en route to beating Arsenal in the UEFA Cup final. Taffarel, Daval and Sas are still part of the coaching staff, while Fatih Terim is once again in charge of Gala.
A return to the Champions League group stages will not strike fear into the hearts of the upper echelons of Europe’s elite. After four seasons finishing in the top two, they limped into the Europa League qualifiers in 2017 after missing out altogether in 2016, only to fall at their first hurdle against Swedish minnows Östersund. Germany’s third highest all-time goalscorer Lukas Podolski left last summer after two fruitful seasons in Istanbul, whereas now even Swansea misfit Bafetimbi Gomis preferred to take the Middle Eastern money of Al Hilal instead of a Champions League campaign.
Nevertheless, while the infernal atmosphere of the mid-1990s Ali Sami Yen stadium is perhaps ever so slightly more sanitised by the modern Turk Telecom-sponsored arena, it is still a mightily intimidating atmosphere to visit. The last time Lokomotiv played in Turkey, a 2-0 loss away to Fenerbahce in the Europa League in early 2016, political tensions were highly strained. Three months earlier, a Russian fighter jet had been shot down by Turkish Air Force jet for invading the country’s airspace near the Syrian border. After the defeat that knocked Lokomotiv out of Europe, midfielder Dmitry Tarasov revealed a t-shirt with a picture of Vladimir Putin and the words ‘Most Polite President’ in Russian. Relations have thawed considerably since then, but the ease of earning a meaningful result for Lokomotiv has not.
After Yuriy Semin’s crowning glory at the age of 71 this summer, all is not rosy in the Russian champions’ garden. They have struggled massively to score goals this season, despite adding the 2016-17 Russian Premier League top goalscorer, Fyodor Smolov, to their seemingly well-knit squad. In fact, they were the last side to score in the Russian top flight, and have only won twice in seven games. Manuel Fernandes, the senior creative hub that sparked most of Lokomotiv’s best-attacking play last season, has added to the uncertainty by refusing to sign a new contract, hinting he may even leave during the winter break.
There is very little hope or expectation of topping the group, despite the comparatively kind draw. History has not shone a favourable light on Lokomotiv in European competition. Their last group stage in the Champions League was 15 years ago in what was admittedly a strong showing – they finished second to Arsenal in their group before being edged out on away goals by eventual finalists Monaco. The only times they have ever made it past the quarterfinals of any European competition was almost two decades ago, with their second consecutive Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final.
Jefferson Farfan and Fedor Smolov were initially rested for the Moscow derby against Dinamo a few days ago, but when they came off the bench they were unable to inject enough spark into Lokomotiv to inspire a comeback. The sight of club legend Dmitry Loskov – all-time top goalscorer and appearance maker as a player and current assistant manager to Semin – wandering way out of the technical area to bark instructions to no avail was symbolic of the embattled struggles of the Railwaymen. Istanbul is a less than ideal away trip to kick-start the season.
Galatasaray vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Players to Watch
Henry Onyekuru #21 – Galatasaray
The Nigerian international winger has already set the Turkish League alight with his blistering pace after signing on loan from Everton for the season. The former Dakar Aspire academy graduate has passed through the KAS Eupen farm team in Belgium – where he scored 22 goals and assisted a further nine – spending last season on loan at Anderlecht, and has already scored two league goals in his first five appearances. His close control on the ball while running at full pace will be a major concern for Lokomotiv’s defence and experienced senior holding midfielder, Igor Denisov.
Grzegorz Krychowiak #7 – Lokomotiv Moscow
Polish international Krychowiak has dictated a large portion of Lokomotiv’s play since arriving in the summer at the base of the midfield. Starting the first Lokomotiv Champions League campaign in 14 years away to Galatasaray is a tough ask for the misfiring Russian champions, so Krychowiak’s experienced presence will be key to emerging unscathed from Istanbul. At the weekend he was harshly sent off for a petulant flick, meaning he will not be available for this following weekend’s domestic action. If he can keep his head while all those around him lose theirs, he’ll be a valuable man.
Galatasaray vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Match Stats
- The only time these two teams met back in 2002, both legs were won by the visiting team scoring twice
- The current coaches, Fatih Terim and Yuriy Semin, were also in charge of their respective sides for the previous encounters
- In six matches against other Russian opposition, Galatasaray have failed to win (D2, L4)
- Galatasaray have only won one of their last nine home European fixtures, losing to their last three Russian visitors
- Lokomotiv qualified from their group on their last two appearances at this level
- Lokomotiv have lost just two of their last 10 European away fixtures (W4, D4)
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Galatasaray vs Lokomotiv Moscow – 2-1
Galatasaray vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Possible Lineups
Muslera – Mariano, Aziz, Calik, Nagatomo – Fernando, N’Diaye – Onyekuru, Belhanda, Rodrigues – Derdiyok
Manager: Fatih Terim
Guilherme – Ignatyev, Kverkvelia, Corluka, Rybus – Denisov, Krchowiak – Aleksey Miranchuk, Fernandes, Farfan – Smolov
Manager: Yuriy Semin
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football, and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.