Anadalou Agency

Even before the draw was made Patrick van Aanholt had an inkling what the Europa League round of 16 might have in store for him and his Galatasaray teammates. "I had a feeling we were going to get Barcelona before the draw," he says. "In the morning I said to the guys it's going to be either Barcelona or it's going to be Sevilla."

Perhaps, Van Aanholt felt he was destined to meet up with the team he had followed from afar while growing up in 's-Hertogenbosch. As a child he was captivated by Barcelona's Brazilian contingent. The likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho etched themselves deep in a footballer who has never been afraid to show a little flair, even as a left back.

Now he will have the chance to fulfil one of the great aspirations of any footballer, not least a boyhood Barcelona fan. It will be "a dream come true" to take to the field at the Camp Nou, but Van Aanholt's ambitions won't end at kick off. Galatasaray are going to Catalonia with designs on victory over the Europa League favorites. Their ambition does not stop there.

"We drew Barcelona and I was happy. To be fair, you want to compete against the best," says the Dutch international. "Yeah, they lost [Lionel] Messi and of course they're not doing the best in the league this year but I think they found themselves in good form with the new manager [Xavi]. It's going to be tough for us but our expectations are high and we've been playing good in Europe. This is going to be a tough game but also a good game.

"With all due respect to all the teams, I think we are capable of beating anyone on our day. We have a very good team and we proved it in the group stage of the Europa League. We are confident in our teammates, we're going to go there to put on a performance."

There is no little symmetry between the seasons of these two giants of their domestic games. Both have struggled to live up to the exacting standards of their supporters, title aspirations long since faded in seasons that have seen them abandon the managers with whom they started the campaign, replacing them with key figures from Pep Guardiola's time at Camp Nou. It will be quite the reunion on Thursday night when Xavi, the on-field heartbeat of the great Barcelona side of the late 2000s and early 2010s, meets Domenec Torrent, assistant at the club between 2008 and 2012.

Since taking over from club legend Fatih Terim in January, Torrent has not entirely redressed the slide that has sent Galatasaray to 12th in the Super Lig, an unthinkable prospect for Turkey's most successful side. They have never ended a season in such a low position, only once have they been outside the top half. Their form has improved in recent weeks, Van Aanholt scored a brace in a 4-2 win over Caykur Rizespor, but consistency eludes Gala, who lost 2-0 at second place Konyaspor at the weekend.

Still, Torrent's impact has not gone unnoticed by his players. "He came in and changed the way of training, the intensity of training has come up," Van Aanholt tells CBS Sports. "He thought we were not fit enough, that we didn't run that much. It's hard to say that he is better than the other manager because they are two different people. 

"I had a great relationship with Fatih Terim, he is the reason I came to Galatasaray. On the other hand, Dominic Torrent is an expert manager. He's been in the game. He's been assistant of Pep Guardiola. He's got his way of playing. That's what we're trying to do now, play the way he wants the team to play."

Barcelona would do well not to underestimate Galatasaray, for all their difficulties in the Turkish league. After all, Van Aanholt notes, they were not among the favorites to escape from a Europa League quartet of Lazio, Marseille and Lokomotiv Moscow. Certainly, few would have expected them to keep clean sheets in all their away games, winning half their games and drawing the rest on their way to top spot in Group E.

"In the Super Lig, they all want to beat the best, they all want to beat Galatasaray," says Van Aanholt. "Look at how big our club is, how big our history is, and they all want to beat us. 

"In the Europa League we're not the biggest club, Barcelona, Napoli [who were knocked out by Xavi's side], all those clubs are more the favorites on paper, the odds are against us. But like I said, on our day, we can beat anyone."

If Van Aanholt sounds bullish when faced with such long odds, it is hardly a surprise. After all one of his team mates has just achieved something far more unlikely. On New Year's Eve 2020 a firework had exploded in Omar Elabdellaoui's face, leaving him clinically blind in one eye. There were no guarantees he would get his sight back, let alone play football again. Yet after 11 surgeries there he was a little over a year later, playing the full 90 minutes in a crucial win over Gotzpe.

Once his rival when he was in Chelsea's academy and Elabdellaoui in Manchester City's, Van Aanholt can hardly contain his delight to be reunited on the pitch with the Egyptian: "When he played his first game back, I told him 'bro just go all out. If you're tired, you're tired, but make sure you leave everything on the pitch, you know, because this is what you came back for, to show everybody that you can do it.' And I think he did it. He did the full 90 minutes. After I think he burst out in tears. We were so proud of him.

"Nothing is impossible. He proved that." Certainly Elabdellaoui's remarkable return to the field puts a Europa League campaign in perspective. Equally, in a world where a player can go from a life-changing incident to a footballing comeback in such a short space of time, Galatasaray overturning far smaller odds to beat Barcelona does not seem so unbelievable.