A stingy backline helped lead Besiktas to a crucial away victory as Trabzonspor suffered only their second defeat in the league this season. A frantic opening 20 minutes gave way to a more methodical 70 and just when nil-nil seemed to be on the cards a penalty handed Besiktas the victory.
Trabzonspor lined up in a fairly discernible 4-4-1-1 shape. Burak Yilmaz was alone up front with Alanzinho behind him trying to link up play and find space between the lines. In central midfield both Didier Zokora and Gustavo Colman sat deeper with the latter having a bit more freedom to get forward. The right wing was patrolled by Serkan Balkci while the left saw an inverted Halil Altintop who liked to cut in, but there was nothing all that exciting about how Trabzonspor played.
The real intrigue was how the visitors lined up. At times it looked like a regular 4-3-3 but there were some interesting tweaks. The first thing to notice was the difference between the two wingers. On the right Ekrem Dag stayed wide and helped out his midfield defensively, playing a fairly functional role. On the left, however, Ricardo Quaresma was basically given a free role. It seemed as if he had zero defensive duties and he often found himself in the middle of the pitch and was very dangerous on the counter. In this case it definitely made sense to have the more responsible Fabian Ernst on the side of Quaresma with the more attacking Manuel Fernandes on the right side of central midfield.
Besiktas let Trabzonspor have the ball
The home side enjoyed having the ball for most of the game as Besiktas stood off them. This seemed a deliberate ploy and Trabzonspor had a very difficult time breaking Besiktas down. Besiktas basically defended with eight players (and the keeper). As mentioned previously Quaresma wasn’t expected to drop back along with Deg and form two banks of four which is what many 4-3-3s who concede possession do. He stayed very high up and was actually decent at pressing the back four, but overall that wasn’t his team’s game plan.
When Trabzonspor had the ball in Besiktas’ half the visitors retreated in a deep and compact shell. The interesting feature to note was the positioning of their captain, Ibrahim Toraman. Usually he played in front of his back four but when Trabzonspor had sustained possession he dropped back into defense and formed a back five. Toraman is no stranger to playing as a central defender and he had a good game alongside Tomas Sivok and Egemen Korkmaz, the latter having an especially fine match.
Usually when a team plays with three central defenders they are doing it to counter a team playing two out and out strikers. This was not the case here as Yilmaz was the only striker in the line up, although with the quality of his off the ball movement a defender must feel at times like he is marking two men. In this match Besiktas seemed content to give Trabzonspor the ball, clog up the dangerous areas, and dare the hosts to break them down. They couldn’t and Besiktas constantly looked dangerous on the counter with Quaresma given so much space and freedom.
Trabzonspor need more than just Yilmaz
Trabzonspor have scored 17 goals this season in the Turkish Super Lig. Yilmaz has scored 13. It is an astonishing ratio, even taking into account that he takes his team’s penalties. You cannot fault a player for being such a prolific scorer, and indeed Yilmaz is much more than a simple poacher, but such a statistic must raise some alarm bells. Against Besiktas no one else was able to step up and provide an offensive spark as Besiktas’ deep line and three central defenders neutralized Yilmaz, who still managed to have a decent game thanks to his great movement. The wingers were predictable with Altintop cutting in and Balkci unable to beat his man, Alanzinho had an awful time finding any space, and Colman was unable to show any thrust from midfield. Perhaps their best offensive player was their deepest midfielder, Zokora, as he got forward and passed to decent effect, but he’s not the player you want orchestrating attacks.
In fact, Yilmaz’s best chance came after a golden opportunity for Quaresma was saved by Tolga Zengin. There was lots of space behind Besiktas’ back line and Yilmaz brought down a great ball from substitute Adrian Mierzejewski but he fired his strike too close to Cenk Gonen.
Stout defending in numbers, dangerous players on the counter, and being compact and narrow; it doesn’t sound like an exciting or revolutionary strategy to win a match but Besiktas were interesting in applying it. First, they were able to free their most dangerous attacker from defensive duties without compromising the integrity of the side, and secondly they utilized a versatile and talented defensive player to frustrate the opposition’s key man.
On the other hand, Trabzonspor need to do more to get their star the support he deserves. Yilmaz did have some talented playmakers behind him, but one is tempted to think that a tall, strong figure such as Robert Vittek could help lay the ball off for and create space for the tricky striker. It would mean sacrificing a midfielder which would usually mean sacrificing some possession, but if they face a side who stands off them and concede the ball then the extra man doesn’t mean as much.