Should Besiktas JK defeat Chelsea FC for a second time in Group G tomorrow they will win the section from the Londoners and, theoretically at least, secure a more advantageous draw in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages.
Besiktas have numerous reasons to be confident. Not only do they lead the Turkish Super League by six points after beating Adanaspor AS 2-1 on Friday - their 15th domestic game without losing - but they are the only side to defeat Chelsea by two goals or more this season, having won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Matchday 2. Coach Mircea Lucescu today sounded a word of warning, though. "Chelsea are not the team we played two months ago," he said.
Manager Claudio Ranieri felt he had made a mistake in that October loss by fielding a three-man central defence for the first time. Chelsea subsequently reverted to the players' preferred 4-4-2 system with startling effect as they wrested control of the Premiership from Arsenal FC and Manchester United FC and became the first team from the pool to qualify for the last 16 after drawing 0-0 against AC Sparta Praha last time out.
The Blues need a point to win Group G, while Besiktas, on seven points, would also advance with a draw should the other game between Sparta and S.S. Lazio - both of whom have five - end similarly. Win, lose or draw, however, Ranieri is confident of negotiating the last 16. "For me it is not important who we play," he said. "If we fear anybody in the Champions League then we are not going to win it. I have every confidence."
'Besiktas must attack'
Chelsea's Argentinian striker Hernán Crespo has not travelled after aggravating a calf injury in the 1-1 draw against Leeds United AFC on Saturday. Better news came in the form of a clean bill of health for midfield duo Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard. Ranieri is expecting an open encounter. "Besiktas must attack because they need the points," he said. "Maybe that will be better for us because at Stamford Bridge they defended deeply and played on the counterattack."
The match is being played in Gelsenkirchen at the Arena AufSchalke, the venue for this season's final, after Istanbul was deemed an unsuitable venue following terrorist attacks on the city. There is a large Turkish population in Germany and well over 50,000 tickets have already been sold. Lucescu believes the supporters "will have a big influence on the game" and has called on them to create an intimidating atmosphere worthy of Besiktas's Inönü stadium.
'Proud new page'
Lucescu admitted that losing midfield player Federico Giunti to suspension was "a big handicap", while Ahmet Dursun is unavailable after surgery. Brazilian defender Ronaldo Guiaro is expected to play despite sitting out training and Kaan Dobra is also fit again. Playmaker Sergen Yalçin, who scored both goals in London, said victory was vital to "raise the morale of the Turkish nation", adding: "
If we win we will open up a proud new page in Besiktas history."
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