Preview: Molde vs. Galatasaray – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Molde and Galatasaray, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Having crushed the KI Klaksvik Champions League dream earlier this month, Molde face a step-up in quality when they meet Turkish champions Galatasaray in the first leg of their qualifying playoff-round tie on Wednesday.

Erling Moe‘s men overcame KI 3-2 on aggregate to progress to the final hurdle, while the visitors to Aker Stadion put four past Olimpija Ljubljana without reply over two legs.

Match preview

Galatasaray's Mauro Icardi celebrates scoring their second goal with Dries Mertens on February 5, 2023© Reuters

As was the case in their second-round qualification battle with HJK Helsinki, Molde recovered from a first-leg deficit to send Faroe Islands trailblazers KI packing, although they survived quite the scare to end the minnows’ continental fantasy.

Already making history as the first-ever team from the Faroe Islands to reach the third round of Champions League qualifying – thereby guaranteeing a Europa Conference League group-stage spot at the very least – KI stunned Molde in a 2-1 first-leg triumph, but Kristian Eriksen‘s early strike in last Tuesday’s return leg forced an additional 30 minutes.

KI were on course to take the clash to a dreaded penalty shootout, but with 112 minutes gone, Martin Linnes doubled Molde’s advantage on the evening as the Norwegian champions advanced to the playoff round by the skin of their teeth.

Still on the hunt for their first Champions League proper appearance since the 1999-2000 campaign – their only group-stage qualification to date – Molde succumbed to the now-abolished away goals rule the last time they made it this far, being eliminated by Ferencvaros in 2020-21 following a 3-3 aggregate draw.

MFK’s domestic form has suffered amid their continental exertions, as Moe’s men have drawn their two most recent Eliteserien encounters with Sandefjord and Valerenga 2-2 and 0-0 respectively, but an 11-game unbeaten home run – during which they have kept eight clean sheets – offers some hope of a first-leg surprise.

Galatasaray coach Okan Buruk on February 5, 2023© Reuters

Similarly, Galatasaray failed to stamp their authority upon their return to the Champions League preliminary rounds, as Okan Buruk‘s men edged out Zalgiris 3-2 on aggregate in the second round before surging to a more straightforward two-legged success over Olimpija Ljubljana.

A 3-0 triumph on Slovenian soil meant that Galatasaray’s spot in the playoff round had been virtually rubber-stamped before last Tuesday’s return leg in Istanbul, where a solitary goal from Mauro Icardi propelled the 10-man Turkish champions – who had Lucas Torreira sent off – to a third successive Champions League triumph.

Defensive solidity has been the theme for Galatasaray since drawing 2-2 with Zalgiris in their opening European encounter, and they got off the mark in the Super Lig at the second time of asking on Saturday, as an Icardi brace secured a 2-0 win over Trabzonspor.

Boasting five clean sheets from their last five matches in all competitions, Galatasaray will be firm favourites to progress to the Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign, consigning a rare season without any form of European football in 2022-23 to history.

Molde and Galatasaray will be locking horns on the competitive stage for the first time this week, but the Turkish champions have only won one of their previous four contests against Norwegian teams, beating Rosenborg in the 1998-99 Champions League before losing 2-1 on aggregate to Tromso in round one of the 2005-06 UEFA Cup.

Molde Champions League form:

Molde form (all competitions):

Galatasaray Champions League form:

Galatasaray form (all competitions):

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Team News

Galatasaray's Kerem Akturkoglu celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on January 8, 2023© Reuters

During the weekend’s goalless stalemate with Valerenga, Molde lost centre-back Eirik Haugan to two bookable offences as the 25-year-old was sent off deep into injury time for dissent, but his participation in Europe is not impacted by that red card.

No fitness concerns have arisen from Molde’s last two contests, but Moe unsurprisingly shuffled the pack at the weekend following a gruelling 120 minutes against KI, as extra-time hero Linnes was among those to drop to the bench.

The right-wing back will expect to return to his regular slot in the hosts’ 3-5-2 setup this week, and the same can be said for Ola Brynhildsen and Magnus Wolff Eikrem in the final third.

Owing to his straight red card in the second leg with Olimpija, ex-Arsenal midfielder Torreira will serve a suspension on Wednesday night, opening the door for one or both of Kerem Demirbay and Sergio Oliveira to enter the fray.

Speaking of ex-Premier League players, Wilfried Zaha is a doubt for the first leg due to a foot injury sustained in last week’s European showdown, which forced him to sit out the win over Trabzonspor, while centre-back Emin Bayram was also forced off in the final 12 minutes of that encounter.

With Zaha potentially unavailable, an unchanged supporting cast of Kerem Akturkoglou, Baris Yilmaz and Dries Mertens should start behind the in-form Icardi, who is keeping Cedric Bakambu at bay for the time being.

Molde possible starting lineup:
Karlstrom; Bjornbak, Ellingsen, Haugan; Linnes, Mannsverk, Breivik, Eriksen, Haugen; Eikrem, Brynhildsen

Galatasaray possible starting lineup:
Muslera; Boey, Nelsson, Ayhan, Angelino; Kutlu, Oliveira; Yilmaz, Mertens, Akturkoglu; Icardi

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We say: Molde 0-3 Galatasaray

Molde may possess the formula for success at home domestically, but their defensive nous is unlikely to count for much against a Galatasaray side who know a thing or two about shutting out the opposition themselves.

Even with Torreira on the naughty step and concerns lingering over Zaha’s availability, Buruk’s squad of esteemed international stars should stroll to a first-leg win with minimal fuss.

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