Three games down, three left, and with the new Premier League season just over the horizon it wouldn’t be surprising to see many key players get more than a half of action when Liverpool heads to Istanbul to take on Galatasaray later today. While Istanbul is hardly unfamiliar territory for Liverpool, the sold-out Turk Telekom Arena will be new, as the modern, state of the art stadium that took the club out of its old haunts and dropped it next to a freeway on the city’s outskirts only opened in January.
While no news has been released on Liverpool’s traveling squad yet, rumours have Pepe Reina and Steven Gerrard far from match fit and remaining in Liverpool, while Raul Meireles (ankle) and Daniel Agger (unknown) are believed to have stayed behind nursing slight knocks as well. Martin Skrtel, however, is expected to be available to make his first appearance of the preseason after a 2010-11 campaign that saw him regain something of his old form after the arrival of defensive guru Steve Clarke alongside Kenny Dalglish. No matter how many minutes he gets, it’s obvious that signs of a tighter defence will be integral for Liverpool as they build towards the new season.
Elsewhere, despite recent talk that he could be one of the players to head out on loan to free up space in Liverpool’s crowded midfield, Jay Spearing will be with the team, too, after talking about his determination to stay and fight for a place. Meanwhile, after saying that his client was definitely staying with Liverpool this season, over the weekend Alberto Aquilani’s agent changed his mind and started spreading rumours that the player was heading to Fiorentina on a loan similar to the one that sent him to Juventus last season—only this time around it would be even worse for Liverpool, as the agreed end of season fee the Italian club would be free to walk away from would be set at £10M and Liverpool would be picking up 20% of the player’s wages in the meantime. Needless to say, if Liverpool actually were to go through with such a deal it would be right to question the sanity of those involved, but as the days slip by with nothing happening it’s quickly turning into the reverse of the Charlie Adam saga: Nobody’s sure if he’s gone or not yet but most assume it will happen sooner or later. Maybe. Unless his agent changes his story again.
With the preseason friendlies at their half-way point, many will be eagerly awaiting team news to find out if the Italian has made the trip or not. Without any whispers of injury, if he hasn’t headed to Turkey with the club it would add credence to the recent rumbling that his future indeed lies elsewhere. Either way, though, with the bulk of Liverpool’s incomings this summer sorted and most of the squad approaching match fitness, at the very least an improved performance compared to the tired outing on Saturday against Hull will be expected—and as brought up earlier in the week, despite talk of it only being preseason the actual result might offer more insight into Liverpool’s future fortunes than many would guess.
As for Liverpool’s opponents, Galatasaray have started slowly through three preseason matches of their own, having so far registered a 1-1 draw at 2. Bundesliga side SpVgg Greuther Fürth, a 0-0 draw at home to Inter Milan, and a 1-0 loss on the road to FC Twente.
Their manager Fatih Terim, who was named the seventh best manager in the world in 2008 after taking Turkey to the semi-finals of the European Championships, returns for his third spell managing the club he earlier spent a decade playing for. After a tumultuous 2010-11 season that saw them go through Frank Rijkaard, Gheorghe Hagi, and finally Bülent Ünder, the return of a familiar face who once led the club to four Super Lig titles and one UEFA Cup sees Galatasaray back in steady—and popular—hands.
If Terim will be familiar to Galatasaray fans, there are a few names on the playing side who most following Liverpool will themselves be well acquainted with. Johan Elmander, their big signing of the summer so far, will be familiar to many, with the Swede looking to make a fresh start after moving to Galatasaray from Bolton on a free. Elmander only managed 18 goals in 92 appearances across three seasons while in the Premier League, but he and his new club will be hoping that a change of scenery brings back the form that saw him playing an important role for Toulouse and Brondby earlier in his career.
And of course there’s Milan Baros, who was an important part of Liverpool’s squad when they headed to Istanbul in 2005 for the Champions League final. As much as anything, he’ll be remembered by Liverpool fans for dropping the trophy during the celebration, leaving a lasting dent that the club decided not to repair. After he left Liverpool, he bounced from Aston Villa to Lyon to Portsmouth before finding a home in Turkey, but following a strong start for Galatasaray in 2008 he has spent much of the past two seasons injured. He’s fit now, though, and will expect to play against his old club.
Meanwhile Arda Turan will also be looking to impress against the side he’s publicly talked of wanting to move to in the past. He hasn’t been linked as often to Liverpool this summer as in other years, but the young captain was Juan Mata and Enrique Lavezzi before Juan Mata and Enrique Lavezzi were—a player who thanks to some small scrap ends up becoming a short-term obsession for half the people following Liverpool, even though in the end it seems likely the club was never in for him in the first place. In any case, if earlier preseason performances by Turan and Galatasaray are anything to go by, today’s affair will be a tight and chippy one. Though of course if Liverpool’s earlier preseason performances are anything to go by a sloppy goal-fest could be on the cards.