Defending champion Galatasaray, still smarting from a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Real in the UEFA Champions League Group B at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Wednesday, faces another tough test at home on Sunday when it takes on rampant Kasımpaşa in week 13 of the Spor Toto Super League.
The “mini” İstanbul derby -- because Kasımpaşa is not accepted as a member of the “big” İstanbul clubs, which includes Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş -- will take place at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
However, Kasımpaşa's league statistics so far this season clearly say otherwise. Kasımpaşa, or simply Paşa, with 25 points from 12 matches was second in the 18-team standings, trailing undisputed leader Fenerbahçe by six, going into week 13 action this week.
Paşa was also a point ahead of third-placed Beşiktaş and led fifth-placed Galatasaray by three. Therefore, the so-called İstanbul “Big Three” concept, excluding Shota Arveladze's Kasımpaşa, is nothing but a travesty of common sense.
With Galatasaray's Champions League hopes now hanging by a thread, Italian coach Robert Mancini is likely to put more emphasis on the domestic league.
The Italian did not want to risk Uruguay first choice keeper Fernando Muslera -- still recovering from a broken big toe -- in Wednesday's match, and the Uruguayan's absence was really felt. Therefore Muslera is likely start against Paşa on Sunday and stand-in third-choice goalkeeper Eray İşcan relegated to the bench.
The Galatasaray defense leaked like a sieve on Wednesday and Mancini has to do something very urgently about it. His preference for error-prone and erratic Cameroon defender Dany Achille Nounkeu defies logic. Luckily, the Cameroonian was red-carded in the match against Sivasspor in week 12 last Saturday and faces an automatic one-match suspension.
Turkey left back Hakan Kadir Balta and center back Semih Kaya are reported to have recovered from injury and may be brought in to boost the leaky defense and rein in the fleet-footed Paşa forwards.
Striker Burak Yılmaz, rested on Wednesday, may be brought in to partner Cote d'Ivoire veteran Didier Drogba up front on Sunday because the Lions need goals to win.
“We may be going through hard times, but we are not at all in a pathetic situation," said Galatasaray midfielder Selçuk İnan. “This [slump in form] can happen to any team and we are capable of bridging the gap [between us and leader Fener],” he added.
But Kasımpaşa, the second highest team in the league with 26 goals, cannot be taken for granted. Turkey striker Adem Büyük is having a very good season, so are Dutch center forward Ryan Guno Babel and Argentine Ezequiel Oscar Scarione -- and are capable of puncturing any defense.
Trabzonspor, in action against Greek Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, has a relatively easier task against Kayseri Erciyesspor at Kadir Has Stadium on Sunday.
The other match on Sunday pits Eskişehirspor against Kardemir Karabükspor.
Sunday's fixtures at a glance
15:30 Trabzon vs. Erciyes (ref Mete Kalkavan)
19:00 Kasımpaşa vs. Galatasaray (Hüseyin Göçek)
19.00 Eskişehir vs. Karabük (M. Kamil Abitoğlu)