Fans return for Fenerbahce vs. Besiktas as derby takes centre stage
Fenerbahce beat rivals Galatasaray to get their season back on track; now a victory over Besiktas in the second Istanbul derby will see the Yellow Canaries leapfrog their rivals and move into second place in the Turkish Super League.
Fenerbahce have been in a rich vein of form following their 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the Europa League and have won their last five consecutive domestic games to move third.
Meanwhile, the Black Eagles have been flying both domestically and in the UEFA Champions League where they are a victory away from qualifying for the round of 16. The reigning league champions are unbeaten this term and have recorded five win in their last seven games.
On the pitch, the action will be tight. But this weekend's derby at the Sukru Saracoglu will be livelier than recent clashes between the teams following Turkish FA's decision to lift the 2011 ban which stopped away supporters of Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray attending games at their opponents' stadiums.
"What makes football great is the fans," Besiktas president Fikret Orman told Turkishfootball.com. "Without the fans, the game is less enjoyable, it loses what makes it special in the first place. Besiktas have been against the away ban since its inception and we have worked hard to get the rule changed. We want to change the perception of fan culture in Turkey."
The absence of away fans in these games has certainly taken away from the raucous atmosphere so often associated with Turkish derby clashes and the decision has been generally warmly received.
"What is special about this weekend's clash is that it will be the first time in five years that away fans will be present at a Fenerbahce vs. Besiktas derby," Fenerbahce fan Murat Imran told ESPN FC.
"This is a great thing as football is all about the fans. We want Besiktas fans to come to our stadium and we want to be able to go to their stadiums. Unfortunately Turkey has not been going the way fans want as a result of the industrialisation of football."
Fenerbahce fans do not hold the same level of animosity towards Besiktas as they do against Galatasaray, but one player in particular will receive a frosty welcome. Caner Erkin and Gokhan Gonul left the Canaries after long spells at the club over the summer: Erkin joined Inter only to make a loan move to Besiktas following the sacking of Roberto Mancini; Gonul meanwhile moved straight to the Black Eagles, which was followed by revelations that he was apparently a life-long Besiktas fan.
Erkin is out injured, as is Anderson Talisca and Veli Kavlak; however Gonul is fit and could start, which will not go down well with the home faithful.
Regardless, Besiktas fans are in a confident mood going into this weekend's encounter following their impressive run of form in recent weeks.
"Besiktas are one of just two sides in Europe who are unbeaten this season and are in good form going into what may be one of the defining fixtures of the campaign," Besiktas fan Ilhan Ayturk said. "If Fenerbahce do not make use of the home support in the early phase of the game, Besiktas will regain control and should be able to come away with at least a point."
However, one eye will firmly be on next week's UEFA Champions League fixture against Dinamo Kiev which could see Besiktas advance to the round of 16.
"For us the UEFA Champions League game next week is much more important than the Fenerbahce clash. However we do not want to give up out advantage in the league and need to come away with at least a point," Dr. Ahmet Buyuk told ESPN FC. "In my opinion this will be tough; the squad's star names such as [Ricardo] Quaresma will already be focused on the Champions League tie."
Fenerbahce have got their league campaign back on track in recent weeks following a disastrous start to the league and will be looking to maintain their run against their bitter rivals.
Robin van Persie has five goals in his last four games but Besiktas will be most worried about Moussa Sow who has found the back of the net eight times in his last seven matches against the Eagles.
The Eagles have won just one of their last 10 away trips to the Sukru Saracoglu stadium but are unbeaten this term. A victory over both Fenerbahce and Kiev would firmly place Besiktas as title favourites yet again and result in the rest of Europe taking notice of Turkish football's rising power; a defeat could see all their early hard work unravel midway through the season
The Istanbul derby is always a big deal but this time around it could end up being an early season defining encounter.
Eren Sarigul covers Turkish football for ESPN and Turkish-football.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ErenSarigul