Süper Lig Team of the Season: OptaCan’s XI
In a season that Trabzonspor clinched the title after a 38-season drought, the 2021-22 Turkish Süper Lig was a rollercoaster ride until the very end. Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray all changed their managers within the same season for just the second top-flight season ever – both of those seeing Trabzonspor collect the title. Beşiktaş finished the season out of top five for the first time since 1997-98, Galatasaray’s 13th place finish is an all-time low and Fenerbahçe run without a title now stands at eight seasons.
Our Turkish data experts at OptaCan look back at the season with their Süper Lig team of 2021-22.
Uğurcan Çakır – Trabzonspor
Uğurcan Çakır was a busy man at Euro 2020 as Turkey exited the tournament in the group stage. The Turkish number one goalkeeper was the busiest at the tournament with a shot on target faced every 10 minutes on average. Despite his nation’s poor performance at the tournament, he could hold his head high with his personal contribution, and it set him up for a successful 2021-22 domestic club campaign.
Trabzonspor conceded 36 goals in the 2021/22 Süper Lig season, the joint-lowest number alongside İstanbul Başakşehir. Çakır was the biggest factor in this achievement, saving a league-high 79% of shots – this despite being one of the most unprotected in the competition as one of only six goalkeepers in the league to face at least 155 shots on target. Across goalkeepers in the top five European leagues in 2021-22, only Milan’s Mike Maignan posted a higher saves to shots on target ratio of all 122 ‘keepers to face at least 50 shots on target.
The 26-year-old made many critical saves throughout the season, but arguably the most important came in the Antalyaspor match where Trabzonspor declared their seventh championship. Uğurcan, who prevented his team from falling behind with the penalty kick he saved from Fredy Ribeiro, took a giant step toward Trabzonspor’s long awaited championship. Overall, he saved three penalties – only Okan Kocuk (four) made more – and kept 10 clean sheets.
Across the season, his saves prevented 11 goals based on Opta’s expected goals on target (xGOT) model, with the quality of the shots on target faced expecting to produce 43 goals compared to the 32 actually conceded by Çakır (excluding own goals).
Onur Bulut – Kayserispor
Despite having had a rough performance in the league throughout the season and being three places above the relegation zone, Kayserispor managed to reach the finals of the Turkish Cup and arguably exceeded expectations for the campaign overall. One of their standout players was defender Onur Bulut.
He was an attacking force from right-back, with his eight assists being his highest tally across his three professional seasons in the Turkish top-flight. All eight came from open play, while he also had the most assists via open play crosses in the Süper Lig in 2021-22 (6).
Of full-backs in the Süper Lig last season, only Juanfran (404) had more ball carries than Bulut (403), with the Kayserispor right-back carrying the ball 4.7km – only three full-backs carried it further. However, no defender created as many chances (23) or assisted as many goals (7) as he did from ball carries, clearly showing the dynamism he brought to Kayserispor’s attack.
This impressive performance by him will naturally attract the attention of the other teams. We do not know what the future holds for Bulut, who has a contract with Kayserispor until the end of 2023, but it’s obvious that the 28-year-old full-back has the skills to attract possible suitors.
Kim Min-Jae – Fenerbahçe
Fenerbahçe’s 2021-22 Süper Lig season was a campaign of two halves. After struggling in the first half of the season, the Istanbul team gained significant momentum in the second half of the campaign with the hiring of Ismail Kartal, eventually rising to second place. Throughout the season of ups and downs, Kim Min-Jae was the only constant.
The South Korean joined the club at the start of 2021-22, with this being his first season in European club football. There were fears that he might take time to adapt, but the 25-year-old was quick to allay those fears with strong performances right from the start of his Süper Lig career.
His duel success rate of 61.5% was well above the Süper Lig average for a defender in 2021-22 (55.4%), as was his aerial duel success ratio (62.4% vs. 57.0%), while his passing accuracy of 89% was also above the league average of 81.5% despite being only one of six defenders to play at least 2,000 minutes and average at least 60 passes per 90 minutes (61.3).
The 26-year-old defender, who will represent South Korea in the 2022 World Cup, will pique the interest of major clubs if he maintains his form in the tournament. This investment aroused some doubts when Fenerbahçe recruited a player who had no experience in European football at the beginning of the year. However, it became clear after only one season that club will receive the return on this investment, either on the field or financially.
Abdülkerim Bardakçı – Konyaspor
Konyaspor enjoyed a great season in the 2021-22 Süper Lig, with a third-place finish to equal their previous best position in 2015-16. Much of their success came from defensive solidarity, with Abdülkerim Bardakçı a key reason for them competing in European competition for the first time since 2017-18, next season.
They finished the season with a league-high 13 clean sheets, while only four clubs allowed their opponents a higher expected goals total than Konyaspor in 2021-22 (48.7).
Abdülkerim Bardakçı finished the season as the defender with the most recoveries in the Süper Lig (220), while the 27-year-old centre-back was also the Konyaspor player with the most clearances (116), aerial duels won (80), and only trailed Amir Hadziahmetovic (208) in total duels won (186) across the whole league.
One of his most important contributions to the side is his ability to bring the ball out from defence. Of defenders to play at least 1,500 minutes in the 2021-22 Süper Lig, Bardakçı was one of only six players to average at least 120m of progressive carrying per 90 minutes (124.4m), while his average carry distance of 12.5m was more than any of those other five.
Bardakçı was also a huge threat going forward at set plays. The centre-back scored four headed goals – only four players in the league scored more – while he also featured in the top four players for headed shots (25) and headed shots on target (10). Overall, no player attempted more shots from set-piece situations (excluding penalties) than the Konyaspor defender (12).
After an impressive performance in the 2021-22 season, he’ll showcase his talents on the European stage next season. If he can keep up the performance levels of last season, the future will be very bright for both him and his team.
Tayfur Bingöl – Alanyaspor
Only top two clubs Fenerbahçe (73) and Trabzonspor (69) scored more goals than Alanyaspor (67) in the 2021-22 Süper Lig. One of the most important contributors to their goal tally was left-back Tayfur Bingöl, who played the part of Swiss-army-knife in the side across the campaign, filling in across various positions on the pitch for his club.
With 13 goal involvements (three goals, 10 assists), Bingöl had the best season of his career so far. That tally also meant that he was the third most involved in goals on his team, after only Efecan Karaca (12 goals, five assists) and Emre Akbaba (10 goals, four assists). Not bad for a full-back.
Nine of his 10 assists came from open play – only four players across the competition had more, none of them defenders.
Under the tutelage of exciting young coach Francesco Farioli, the full-back assisted more goals from open play than any other player after his coach’s arrival on December 31 2021 (eight).
Alanyaspor and Bingöl could be going places in 2022-23. They were unlucky last season to finish a point outside the European qualification spots, but they look set to be a force to be reckoned with next term.
Edin Visca – Istanbul Başakşehir/Trabzonspor
Edin Visca, who first stepped into the Süper Lig in the 2011-12 season with Istanbul Başakşehir, has been one of the most eye-catching names in the league for both his stability and his effectiveness on the pitch during the 10 years in the competition.
In recent seasons, Visca has been one of the highest performing players in the Süper Lig. This title win with Trabzonspor was his second in the Turkish top-flight after a 2019-20 victory with İstanbul Başakşehirm while he won the Süper Lig Player of the Season award in 2019 and finished the top assister in three consecutive seasons (2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20). He nearly added 2021-22 to that list with 12 assists, but he was beaten to the assist-leader title by Matías Vargas (13).
Visca did lead the league rankings for open play chances created (83) and total chances created (111), while he finished 19 ahead of Rachid Ghezzai in the league ranking of open play chances and secondary chances created, combined (113).
In the short time he spent in the Trabzonspor jersey, he also managed to be a key part of moments that will be remembered for many years. The champions defeated Galatasaray after coming from behind in January (2-1), and Visca became the hero of one of the signature moments of the season, thanks to his late winning goal.
In the possible scenario where Anthony Nwakaeme leaves Trabzonspor this summer, Visca will likely become the player that manager Abdullah Avcı will have to trust the most.
Lucas Biglia – Fatih Karagümrük
Fatih Karagümrük was promoted to the Süper Lig in the 2020-21 season and performed above expectations, but coach Francesco Farioli was dismissed midway through December and 17 matches into the season.
Following the appointment of Volkan Demirel as coach they were forced to switch their playing style quite dramatically – one of the players to make sure that transition was smooth was central midfielder Lucas Biglia.
Biglia didn’t have much of an impact in terms of scoring contribution (one goal, four assists) across his 33 appearances, but he did the dirty work that enabled his side to perform.
Only Obinna Nwobodo (111) made more tackles than Biglia (100), while the experienced Argentine won an above league average 57% of duels. In addition to this, across the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch combined, the 36-year-old won possession from opponents a league-high 284 times.
The Istanbul club will want to start a new chapter in 2022-23 season however, but it will not be an easy task to fill the absence of Biglia, whose contract expired this summer.
Alexandru Maxim – Gaziantep FK
The 2021-22 season was a tough one to evaluate for Gaziantep FK. They won the third-most points in home games (40), but their away form was terrible – they collected just six points in 19 away games, which was the lowest tally in the Süper Lig.
Despite the ups and downs, one player that managed to stay at a consistent level throughout the season was their midfielder, Alexandru Maxim.
With 14 goals, he was the highest scoring midfielder in the league across 2021-22, while only three players had more goal involvements in the Süper Lig than he did (21 – 14 goals, seven assists). True, eight of his goals were from the penalty spot – the most in the competition – but he was consistent in these situations with a 100% success rate. The last player to attempt at least eight penalties and score every one of them in a Süper Lig season was Maxim himself in 2020-21 (8/8).
However, his offensive production is not limited to set pieces. Among the midfielders, he was the player with the second most successful take-ons in the opposition half (67) behind only Fousseni Diabate (69), while he was also the player to create the most chances after successful take-ons (6).
Overall, his 90 chances created in 2021-22 was the third most in the Süper Lig behind only Edin Visca (111) and Matías Vargas (97), while his passes had an expected assists total of 8.3 – the fourth-most in the competition. All this for a player in the heart of midfield for the 15th best team in the league in 2021-22.
Anthony Nwakaeme – Trabzonspor
Trabzonspor’s first Süper Lig title in 38 years came thanks to some exceptional performances from standout players – winger Anthony Nwakaeme was undoubtedly one of those.
He was the only player to post double figures for both goals (13) and assists (10) – only the second time he’s managed this in Turkey, after 2018-19 – while his 23 goal involvements were only exceeded by Umut Bozok (27).
Even the underlying numbers stress how well his season went. No player in the 2021-22 season had a higher non-penalty expected goals and expected assists total combined (18.8) than Nwakaeme, showing how important his attacking influence was in Trabzonspor’s title win.
Much of his threat came from his direct running at opponents, with a league-high six assists and 27 of chances created coming following ball carries, while overall he was involved in 47 shots following carries (20 shots attempted).
Across the season, he was involved in 162 open play sequences leading to a shot – only three players managed to be more crucial to their side, none at Trabzonspor: Kerem Aktürkoğlu (172), Haris Hajradinovic (167) and Efecan Karaca (167). Of those 162, 72 saw him attempt the shot (44.4%), while he was the creator of the shot on 50 occasions and involved in the build-up in the other 40.
It is unclear which team he will play for next year, whose contract with Trabzonspor has expired. However, it is a fact that the 33-year-old player managed to leave an indelible mark on the fans of Trabzonspor for many years, regardless of his next stop.
Umut Bozok – Kasımpaşa
In the 17th week of the 2021-22 Süper Lig, Kasmpaşa were at the bottom of the league standings. Kasımpaşa board, who wanted to stop the rot, brought in Sami Uğurlu as coach – they didn’t look back.
Following his appointment, only Fenerbahçe (46) won more points in the league, while they collected the same tally as champions Trabzonspor (42). The biggest reason for this was the performance of star striker Umut Bozok, who finished the season as the Süper Lig top scorer with 20 goals.
After a frustrating two-year spell at French side Lorient, Bozok made the loan move to Kasımpaşa in July 2021. Although born in France, the striker is of Turkish descent – despite this, 2021-22 was his first-ever season in Turkey…and what a season.
Scoring in a league-high 18 different matches, not only was he named Gol Kralı (the Turkish league top scorer), but he also led the league in goal involvements (27) with an additional seven assists.
He was lethal in front of goal, converting 24.7% of shots – the highest ratio of players with 60 or more shots, while he outperformed his expected goals total by just over four goals.
Kasımpaşa picked up the option of Umut Bozok’s contract, but it’s still unclear where he’ll play next season. They’ll be hoping to keep him for 2022-23, as it became clear how effective a weapon he could be in the Süper Lig.
Andreas Cornelius – Trabzonspor
Trabzonspor have enjoyed a successful relationship with Scandinavian strikers in recent seasons. 2019-20 saw Norwegian striker Alexander Sørloth top the league scoring charts with 24 goals and now they’ve got another hotshot from the region.
2021-22 saw Danish forward Andreas Cornelius arrive at the club following three years of loan deals in Bordeaux (2018-19) and at Parma (2019-20 and 2020-21). The move paid dividends for Trabzonspor, as his 15 goals helped them to win the title. That tally of 17 across all competitions was his highest in a season since scoring 21 with Copenhagen in 2016-17.
None of his 15 goals came from the penalty spot – only Ayoub El Kaabi (17) scored more non-penalty goals in the Süper Lig across 2021-22. Since 2007-08, when Opta started detailed analysis of the league, no other Trabzonspor player has scored more goals without scoring a penalty in a single season (level with Gökhan Ünal in 2008-09).
It was also only El Kaabi (16) who scored more goals from inside the box than Cornelius (15) in 2021-22, while of players to play 1,500 minutes or more, only Serdar Dursun (0.68) and Aleksandar Pesic (0.56) managed a higher non-penalty xG/90 than the Dane (0.54). He also got in great positions – of the 39 players to attempt 50 or more non-penalty shots, only two had a higher xG per shot average than Cornelius (0.19) – Pesic (0.21) and Stefano Okaka (0.21).
Abdullah Avcı – Trabzonspor
Abdullah Avcı is one of the most successful coaches in the Süper Lig in recent years. Between 2015 and 2019, he achieved five successive top five finishes in the competition, but the prestigious Süper Lig title kept evading him.
The experienced manager took over Trabzonspor in the middle of the 2020-21 season, and he sent a clear message to his opponents while entering the new 2021/22 campaign with his successful performance as coach, losing just three of their 32 matches (W18 D11). Starting last season in dominant fashion helped the cause, with Trabzonspor not losing across their opening 15 matches and sitting at the top of the league (W12 D3).
In a season where he secured his first top-flight title as a coach, Avcı the fourth quickest man to reach 200 wins in the competition, doing so behind only the legendary trio of Fatih Terim (336) Mustafa Denizli (361), Şenol Güneş (380). Overall, he’s now won 41 of his 70 league games in charge of Trabzonspor, with his 59%-win ratio behind only Şenol Güneş (60%) of people to have coached the club for 25 or more games in the competition.
Trabzonspor will enter the next season as one of the biggest contenders for the championship. Avcı will hope to become just the fifth Turkish coach in Süper Lig history to win back-to-back championships after Fatih Terim, Şenol Güneş, Ahmet Suat Yazıcı, and Gündüz Kılıç. Considering the situation that Trabzonspor are in, it seems that this is not a distant possibility.
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