Besiktas V Stoke
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 – 18:00 GMT
UEFA Europa League, Group E
With qualification assured, topping the group is now the objective for Stoke – but it is certainly no priority.
A draw or better and Stoke are guaranteed to top their group, but Tony Pulis has conceded that the Premier League must come first what with a busy festive schedule looming. Hence why virtually all who featured in that thrilling weekend victory over Tottenham were left behind for Wednesday’s visit to the Turkish capital of Istanbul.
Awaiting a ‘second-string’ Stoke side are Besiktas, who boast a perfect record at home in the competition so far having recorded wins over Dynamo Kiev (1-0) and Maccabi Tel-Aviv (5-1). The Black Eagles only need a point to confirm their place in the Round of 32, though victory over the side which despatched them 2-1 at the Brittania Stadium on 29 September would hand them top spot, which would also mean seeding for the draw for the very first round of knockouts in the New Year.
Although the term ‘second-string’ does sound off-putting, don’t be too alarmed, as Stoke’s fringe players boast plenty of experience, know-how and quality. Asmir Begovic will start in goal, Matthew Upson will marshal the defence, Wilson Palacios will bring some combative qualities to the table in central midfielder while the always creative Jermaine Pennant could also earn a start. Up front, meanwhile, Cameron Jerome and Kenwyn Jones will want to showcase their talents; with the pair having spent much of the season so far watching from the sidelines.
So a decent team should await second placed Besiktas, though I suspect the intimidating atmosphere and the fact Besiktas know they cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they’re to extend their European adventure will overwhelm them. The onus is on the home side and even though they are without their star man, with Ricardo Quaresma ruled out because of a knee injury, this is all set-up for them to qualify in style – as Group E winners.
A lack of desire and hunger – what with they being through and all – could be Stoke’s downfall in Istanbul, and why I am not overly confident they’ll score on the night. They aren’t exactly the best of travellers in the Premier League – winning two but losing a staggering 12 of their previous 17 away from home (W2 D3 L12), failing to score on nine occasions – so asking them, in a weakened form, to enter unfamiliar, unfavourable terrain and get a result is asking a lot.
Recommended Bet: Besiktas to WIN – 9/10 Unibet
Value Punt: Besiktas to WIN to NIL – 21/10 VictorChandler