Seventeen weeks have gone by and none of the "Big Three" are leading the Turkish Super League - what's even more astonishing, none of them are even in the top three. For the first time in league history, the smaller teams have outplayed all of the traditional powerhouses - Galatasaray, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe - going into the midseason break. Now is the time for teams like Başakşehir, Trabzonspor, Yeni Malatyaspor and Kasımpaşa, the rising stars of Turkish football.
To understand what happened to the big guns and how their fall came about, we need to take a step back and return to the 2018 World Cup in June, where everything changed.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was the manifestation of the new football: Strong, fast, defensively solid and offensively reactionary. Although this concept was slowly growing since Diego Simeone came to Atletico Madrid and the first evidence of its strength was apparent in EURO 2016, the World Cup has been the peak of something that might be called "neo counterattacking."
What makes neo counterattacking from classic counterattacking is that it emphasizes offensive organization as well. Teams that utilize neo counterattacking do not defend solely to stop the opponent, they see defending as the first step of attacking the opponent. In other words, the plan is not to defend and then somehow attack, the plan is to defend in a certain way that when the ball is intercepted, the attacking plan can start immediately.
It seems Turkish teams have learned their neo counterattacking lessons very well. It was a great option since it did not require dominating the game or risk conceding a goal by taking the initiative. With almost all teams in Turkey going the same way, the league has almost reached an equilibrium. Only Başakşehir, due to their experience in counterattacking, was able to take a six-point lead at the top. The rest, from the second spot until the tenth, could not put on a decisive performance to break the stalemate.
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was also very important for the new order in the league. As referee decisions became more and more precise with VAR, the decision bias in favor of the big three was gone. Thus, the rest of the league became more encouraged to play for the top. They also understood that they could nullify each and every individual talent by organized collective action. How talented Ricardo Quaresma, Younès Belhanda or Mathew Valbuena was did not matter anymore, with an internalized set piece you can neutralize any threat they pose.
Now, Başakşehir seems like the favorite, since it has been playing this game longer than any team in Turkey. Coach Abdullah Avcı was probably the first coach in Turkey who understood and implemented neo counterattacking. Therefore, Başakşehir represents the peak of neo counterattacking football in Turkey. If Başakşehir does not make any serious mistakes in the second half of the season, it will finally claim the title after years of hard work.