Astana made a huge success by reaching the Champions League group stage, but truth to be told they had plenty of luck in the progress by defeating all three opponents with one goal difference on aggregate score. Maribor, Helsinki and APOEL were excluded, but no doubt that much more difficult job awaits them in the group stage where it will be really hard for the team to get more than a couple of points overall.
In the first round they visited Benfica and looked a bit impressed by atmosphere in the first halftime, staying generally too passive in the game, trying mostly via counter attacks and long shots. They paid the price of defending poorly in twelve minutes, conceding goals via Gaitan in 51st and Mitroglu in 62nd for the final defeat. Interesting enough, their poor form in the domestic league has started with that loss, as the team now two defeats in the league too. Their most recent loss against Irtysh Pavlodar 2:1, probably ended their aspirations in the title race as the team now has seven points less than leading Kairat, being in a position to struggle for European League ticket now. Home side will be without forward Patrick Twumasi (scored two goals in qualifying progress), who will serve the second of his four-match suspension. Defender Eldos Akhemtov is questionable for this one.
Galatasaray, on the other side, didn’t show to be much competitive in the first round of Champions League group stage at home against Atletico Madrid when they suffered 2:0 defeat. Spaniards looked way more mature, scored two goals early (in 18th and 25th via Griezmann) and took easy three pointer on that occasion. They remained being better on the field and defended well at times, not leaving their victory being jeopardized at any moment.
Being together in a group with Atletico Madrid and Benfica, it’s hard to see Galatasaray getting the first two positions with ease, but no doubt that the team will try to stay competitive as long as possible and will search for their chances. Having that in mind, this game comes as a must win one, while the club has improved their atmosphere with recent positive results in domestic league. After a poor start they have now earned two consecutive victories and occupy fourth position, being only two points away from the top of the table. Their performances are still not convincing, but the team is going into the right direction. Coach Oztekin will be without important striker Burak Yilmaz (5/2) who will be sidelined with hamstring injury for a month. Central defender Semih Kaya (4/0) and midfielder Hamit Altintop are injured as well.
Astana failed to win any out of four last competitive matches, losing three of those. They aren’t expected to take anything out of the next matches and surely the visiting side has much more of individual quality. They lost the first leg and now need to react, not only to bounce back in the fight for first two positions, but also to feel more relaxed regarding the Europe League exit on Spring. Draw can’t be excluded, but I see Galatasaray being much more closer to the victory here, with minimum chances of suffering a defeat again.
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