2nd September 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Following his exertions with Turkey at Euro 2016, Arda Turan had every right to enjoy his time off ahead of the new season with Barcelona. But after a disappointing first season at the club, which was heavily interrupted by the club's transfer ban that meant he only started playing in January, the 29-year-old, with the input of Luis Enrique, choose to cut his holiday short and return to preseason training early.
By enjoying such a scintillating start to the season, Turan's been completely vindicated for his decision to sacrifice his vacation, in order to rediscover his form. He's scored an impressive three goals and supplied three assists in his three games this season, but his contribution hasn't stopped there. And this was something that was suitably illustrated in Barcelona's hard fought 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend.
From his left-wing post, the stocky midfielder showcased exactly why he's such a valuable weapon for the Blaugrana, using all of his nous and experience to have a profound impact on the contest. Facing the aggressive pressing of Ernesto Valverde's men, Turan's composure and technical qualities saw him show a high level of resistance to the fervent pressure, as he coped swimmingly. Whether by making a slick one touch pass, using his hulking strength to hold the ball up or calling on his exquisite manoeuvrability in confined spaces, Turan consistently evaded Les Leones' best attentions.
Another aspect of his game that made him an illusive proposition for the home side was his nifty movement. There were two main components to this that differed depending on the situation. Firstly, whenever Barcelona forced a turnover and embarked on a counter attack, Turan would cleverly pull out to the left wing so he could receive the ball in space, which subsequently stretched and disorganised the unset Bilbao backline.
Secondly, in his team's slower, more controlled possession phases, the former Atletico Madrid whizz would always come inside. While this inherently created space for his fullback, Jordi Alba, to utilise, it also gave Barcelona an extra number in central areas. Considering Valverde had instructed his side to defend very compactly, the tactic made perfect sense, allowing Barca to gain numerical parity in this area of the pitch. Messi did the same from his right wing station too, which only served to amplify the effectiveness of the strategy.
Turan's burgeoning relationship with left central midfielder, Denis Suarez, gave further reason for optimism to be drawn from the fixture. The finest examples of their ever growing understanding came in situations where Suarez would make his typical forward surges from midfield. On these occasions, Turan would immediately recognise this and duly slide across and cover the space Suarez had just vacated to ensure Barca wouldn't be punished in case of a turnover. Moreover, the pair's tidy link up play and encouraging knowledge of one another's tendencies provided another reason for positivity.
Meanwhile, Turan's strong defensive contribution saw him challenge manfully in his duels, both on the ground and in the air, plus track his marker, Oscar De Marcos, with a great degree of diligence. In addition, the way he vigorously harried Athletic at every available opportunity also saw him act as a fine exponent of Barca's famed pressing game.
Overall, Turan had every reason to be pleased with his excellent body of work, as he once again did a sterling job in the absence of Neymar. Intelligent, tactically astute and a superb decision maker, if Turan can keep up his incredibly high level, he'll be a very difficult man for Neymar to usurp when he returns.
In the wake of his formidable start to the season, it's quite remarkable that he's been overlooked for Fatih Terim's Turkey squad ahead of their World Cup qualifying clash with Croatia. Terim's brave call to opt for youth over experience following their disappointing Euro 2016 crusade admirable, but it still seems a mistake not to pick their finest player in Turan. The fact Buruk Yilmaz, Selcuk Inan, Gokhan Gonul, Hakan Balta and Caner Erkin were also omitted gives a clear depiction of Terim's bold new direction.
Barca certainly won't mind, however, for they'll be able to keep him fresh for their clash with Alaves when La Liga resumes in around a week.
Having enjoyed such a tremendous start to the 2016/2017 term, Arda will unquestionably reflect back on his decision to start preseason early as an absolute masterstroke.
Arda Turan Starts 2016 Campaign in Form
2nd September 2016. By Edward Stratmann.