Leader Galatasaray, aka the Lions, hosts Black Sea newcomer Orduspor in week 33 -- the penultimate week -- of the Spor Toto Super League at Türk Telekom Arena in İstanbul on Saturday.
This match, however, has gained added importance -- for all the wrong reasons -- since it has been overshadowed by the recent remarks of Galatasaray's Argentine midfielder Emmanuel Culio, who was given on loan to Orduspor at the beginning of the ongoing 2011-12 season.
Culio told LİG TV after Orduspor's home match with Gençlerbirliği last Sunday, which ended 0-0, that he would not like to play against Galatasaray -- if this was something within his power -- on Saturday and also that he wanted to return to the İstanbul club with immediate effect.
Orduspor rightfully considered this an insult, and so the Black Sea club decided on Monday to unilaterally terminate Culio's contract.
Ordu Chairman Nedim Türkmen, a former member of the Galatasaray club, said statements made on three occasions by Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim that he would not have allowed Culio to go to Ordu if he had known that former captain-playmaker Arda Turan would be sold to Atletico Madrid confused the Argentine.
Galatasaray's opponents, especially in the local sports media, are having a field day blasting Terim and also accusing the Super League leader of foul play.
Romanian forward Bogdan Stancu, also on loan from Galatasaray to Orduspor, is injured. Stancu, who missed last Sunday's match against Gençlerbirliği, will also be absent at TT Arena on Saturday. This too has ignited further controversy.
At a time when the ongoing match-fixing scandal is the talk of the town and everyone is suspicious of everybody and everything, the Galatasaray club issued a statement on its website warning against conspiracy theories.
But the naysayers and alarmists would not be deterred. And even an apology by Culio that he had “expressed himself in the wrong way” has not been enough to convince them.
Galatasaray has been earning praise here, there and everywhere as the best team in Turkey this season, the undisputed leader in the Spor Toto Super League and therefore the top favorite to clinch the championship that will be determined after a four-team playoff at the end of the regular season. This Culio affair is not what the Lions wanted at this point in time, nor expected.
Galatasaray was winless in its last three matches, in all competitions, and the mysterious slump may be due to the fact that Sweden striker Johan Elmander is injured.
The Swede, arguably the best player on the Lions team, was not fielded in the last two games in which the Lions were beaten 1-0 at home by Sivasspor in the Turkish Cup and came from behind to draw 1-1 at home in the Super League last Sunday.
These results show how important a player Elmander is and also make him indispensable to the squad. Elmander has reportedly not fully recovered yet and is very likely to miss Saturday's match.
Orduspor, with 41 points from 32 matches, is in safe territory and under no threat of relegation. The Black Sea side, coached by world-renowned Argentine Hector Cuper, does not want its name associated with any ethically dubious activity.
Cuper's men are therefore expected to give their all in Saturday's match, and that will only make Galatasaray's job all the more difficult.
The teams that will finish fifth to eighth and qualify for the UEFA Europa League playoffs at the end of the regular season could be decided in the other Super League games on Saturday. This therefore gives importance to the matches involving prospective playoff candidates Sivasspor Bursaspor, Gençlerbirliği, Eskişehirspor, İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesspor and Gaziantepspor because only five points separate these teams with only two games to go.
Saturday's matches at a glance
15:30 Sivas vs. İstanbul BB (ref Cüneyt Çakır)
15:30 Kayseri vs. Eskişehir (Halis Özkahya)
15:30 Gençlerbirliği vs. Manisa (Serkan Çınar)
19:00 Galatasaray vs. Orduspor (Tolga Özkalfa)