There was widespread disappointment in Turkey after the three Super League clubs playing in Europe last week failed to win, but despite an uninspiring display from a team in transition Fenerbahçe SK remain on course for a play-off place.
Like Istanbul rivals Galatasaray AŞ and Beşiktaş JK, Fenerbahçe could only draw the opening leg of their qualifier. The first instalment of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie against BSC Young Boys in Switzerland finished 2-2, giving them the away-goals edge ahead of Wednesday's home decider. However, with goalkeeper Volkan Demirel generally acknowledged as the team's best player on the night, it was the manner of the performance that created frustration.
Fenerbahçe played the entire second half with ten men following Colin Kazım Richards's dismissal, yet their problems were not purely numerical. New coach Aykut Kocaman has attempted to revamp the side's playing style and, while it is taking time, captain Alex feels they are close. "Kocaman wants the team to be quicker and more dynamic," the midfielder said. "He wants players to fight all over the field. I don't think it'll take long because our formation is not too different from previously.
"We've changed the way we train and play.
We'll improve with time and reach a level where we can entertain the fans as well as getting the desired results." However, the Yellow Canaries' immediate concern is the second leg against Young Boys, and, with personnel as well as tactical worries, it is by no means a foregone conclusion.
The absence of centre-back Diego Lugano – granted extra holiday after Uruguay's FIFA World Cup semi-final jaunt – has exposed fault lines in Fenerbahçe's defence. He was actually due back for Wednesday but a knee injury has ruled him out and he may even miss the start of the domestic season. Up front Daniel Güiza does not figure in Kocaman's plans, while Semih Şentürk and Gökhan Ünal have struggled for form. On the plus side, midfielder Miroslav Stoch has been impressive since his summer move from Chelsea FC.
Kocaman himself is upbeat as his squad look to clinch a play-off place. "We were a man down in the first leg but my players did their best," the 45-year-old former Fenerbahçe forward said. "We have the advantage and my team are favourites." Going out at this early stage would be a serious setback, yet Alex is equally confident: "There's not much to say about the first match – we weren't good. I expect an ambitious and disciplined display from Young Boys, but we have enough to advance."
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