Is Nwakaeme’s absence to blame for Trabzonspor’s title slump?

Huseyin Cimsir’s team have dropped valuable points with the forward injured, and their chances of a historic title win are now dented

When Trabzonspor’s team news for their visit to last year’s champions Galatasaray was revealed, the inclusion of injury returnee Anthony Nwakaeme stood out. The upshot of the forward’s two-game layoff, absent against Alanyaspor and Ankaragucu, was four points dropped for Huseyin Cimsir’s side.

As a result, the Super Lig title-chasers were usurped at the top of the table by Istanbul Basaksehir, whose 2-0 win over Antalyaspor on Saturday took them five points clear at the top. Trabzonspor had to get the better of Fatih Terim’s side a day later if they wanted to keep pace with the leaders who threatened to run away with the title in the final weeks.

They claimed a 3-1 win over the Yellow-Reds, with Nwakaeme only featuring briefly after entering the contest with four minutes of normal time to play.

While the fact they picked up their first win in three over the outgoing champions with little involvement from their Nigerian forward may invalidate his importance to the side, there’s some context: Galatasaray were dominant at the Turk Telekom Stadium until Sofiane Feghouli received his marching orders in the 32nd-minute.

The Algerian’s sending off left his team in the lurch for the rest of the game, and it told as the game wore on. Nine minutes after the wide midfielder’s dismissal, the away side opened the scoring and took the game by the scruff of the neck after edging ahead.

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Their dominance didn’t bear more fruit until Filip Novak doubled the visitors’ advantage with 20 minutes to play, and even though Jean-Michael Seri halved the deficit three minutes into stoppage time, the Black Sea Storm made sure of the points when top scorer Alexander Sorloth made it 3-1 two minutes later.

Just how the game would have panned out had Feghouli stayed on remains to be seen, but being able to call upon Nwakaeme’s contribution in the final third going forward will please Trabzonspor boss Cimsir.

In his absence, they played out to draws against out-off-form Alanyaspor and cellar-dwelling Ankaragucu, sides they were expected to beat. Cimsir played Ghanaian Caleb Ekuban (twice) and Brazilian Guilherme in those games the 31-year-old inside-forward couldn’t feature, to little success.

Ekuban, typically a right winger (or second striker) struggled on the opposite flank, while the South American plays at his best in attacking midfield or on the right. The Trabzon-based club not only missed their second-highest scorer’s goals but his ball-carrying skill to drive past opponents and the ability to fashion out chances for teammates.

He’s behind Sorloth for goals (21 to 11) as well as total goal contributions (29 to 17), still, he leads the way as the team’s top dribbler and comes in at second behind Jose Sosa as Trabzonspor’s top creator (2.7 to 1.7 key passes per game).

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Anthony Nwakaeme Ankaragucu v Trabzonspor 11232019

Nwakaeme’s six assists put him behind only the experienced Argentine playmaker and prolific Dane, who have set up eight apiece this term, while the underrated knack for scoring low-percentage efforts has been useful for the title hopefuls this season.

Interestingly, per FBref, the Trabzonspor attacker sits sixth for goals and assists per 90 with 0.73. When penalties are excluded, he rises two places to fourth in the entire division, truly emphasising his usefulness to the team. Only Sorloth, who tops both, posts a better average for the title challengers indicating that both are essential to Trabzonspor’s attacking influence in the final third.

Not having your team’s second-best forward and statistically, the fourth-best in the entire division will affect any side, a realisation that dawned on Cimsir in successive gameweeks.

Another statistic that sheds more light on how much Trabzonspor lean on the Nigerian attacker is revealed in their failure to pick up three points in recent games before the lockdown where he neither scored nor assisted.

Case in point was against Gaziantep and title challengers Basaksehir in March, where both games ended 1-1 and in recent games he missed through injury. In the former, Nwakaeme missed a gilt-edged scoring opportunity while teammates didn’t make the most of the five chances he fashioned out vs the current league leaders.

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Nevertheless, this isn’t to suggest Trabzonspor are a one-man team. Cimsir’s troops have no less than four players who have carried the can this term: Sorloth, Nwakaeme, Sosa – arguably the division’s best player – and Guilherme, while the supporting cast led by Ekuban and the released Daniel Sturridge have played a part in this season’s title charge.

However, the brief loss of what the Nigerian brings to the side’s play, not limited to just goals and assists, was sorely missed in the games preceding Sunday’s 3-1 defeat of Galatasaray.

With Nwakaeme back healthy, Cimsir will look to the Nigerian and his teammates as Trabzonspor strive to supplant Basaksehir with four games left and bring home the club’s first Super Lig trophy in 36 years.

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