Time is definitely ticking for Başakşehir as they lost five points in the last two games and the championship which seemed sealed three weeks ago is now still on the table. The gap between them and their closest rival Galatasaray has narrowed to three points, and it could have been only one had Galatasaray won against struggling Fenerbahçe. At this point, the first question is obvious, what happened to Başakşehir? Nevertheless, the second one is more important, can it win the league? I argue that it is still the favorites, but only if it can handle the pressure.
The readers of this column would know, that I warned Başakşehir before the long international break about growing anxiety. Its last game before the break was against Kayserispor, a tough opponent, and although it found numerous opportunities Başakşehir could score only once, leaving it with only one point. After that match, I argued that this was due to increasing anxiety within the team and manager Abdullah Avcı had to find a way to calm his team down.
However, it got only five points out of the last four games and more importantly, the Istanbul side lost points against teams that it easily beat in the first half of the season. The team, which hardly conceded any goals in the first half of the season, conceded four goals in the last four games. This number may not seem high at first glance, but Başakşehir is not the type of team that scores more than they concede, defensive efficiency is its strength. The team which conceded only 12 goals in 25 games suddenly became an easy target for strikers, and I do not think it is due to the inefficiency of its strategies.
The first and foremost parameter that changed in the last four weeks is the absence of center back Alexandru Epureanu, who is injured for more than a month. Başakşehir conceded six goals without Epureanu and his importance became obvious as the team kept conceding without him. It seems that it was Epureanu, just like Pepe for Beşiktaş last year, who kept his defense in check, making sure that no one slips behind. His replacement, Joseph Attamah, made lots of mistakes and directly cost his team two goals against Fenerbahçe and Rizespor. Therefore, it is crucial for Başakşehir that manager Avcı finds a way to strengthen the core of his defense if Epureanu is not available until the end of the season.
The other and more crucial issue is that Başakşehir, due to its low popularity, is not used to high-stress football. Until the end of the season, it was able to play football and win games in a row without being noticed, but as it became a favorite to win the title, it increasingly came under the spotlight. Its unusual performance in the four weeks was due to inexperience in the championship race and apparently, Başakşehir's experienced squad forgot their experiences in the calm atmosphere of the club. It is now a matter of showing character on the pitch, playing football in the face of stress and getting three points no matter what. The time has come for Avcı to prove his leadership skills if Başakşehir truly want to be the champions.
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