FC Basel 1893 v Manchester City - Match Preview
City set off for Switzerland after a productive weekend which saw them deliver an emphatic message with their 5-1 thumping of Leicester City, witness a morale boosting return to goal scoring form for the peerless Sergio Aguero and saw Raheem Sterling bury the memory of his miss against Burnley. All of this was supported by another sumptuous passing Masterclass from the phenomenon that is Kevin De Bruyne.
Naturally the icing on the cake arrived on Sunday afternoon with a confirmation of the extension of the club`s lead at the top of the Premier League. Standing at 16 points this is the largest gap seen quite some time and the combination of results has produced a tantalising prospect involving the ability to secure the title at the Etihad when the derby is played. Mouthwatering indeed. If Pep`s squad needed any additional motivation to continue their outstanding season to bring this to pass……..I am not sure I could think of a better one.
Enough of this dreaming though. Feet on the ground. Eyes front & focus. One game at a time.
In that regard the return of Champions League football brings a different challenge for Pep and his players.
The two sides have never met and so history will be made when the players step out at the St Jakob Park on Tuesday evening. Their overall history in European competitions stretches back to 1995 and the Intertoto Cup where they lost to Sheffield Wednesday and their record against English opposition stands at P28 W7 D8 L13 GF34 GA52. At home their record in Europe against English teams is P13 W6 D2 L5.
FC Basel 1893 currently lie second in the Swiss Super League on the coat tails of BSC Young Boys and a comfortable 10 points clear of third placed FC Zurich. They have only lost one match in their last eleven fixtures in all competitions - a series of results that stretches back to the beginning of November 2017 although this does include a break of 49 days between mid-December and the beginning of February.
To place this in some perspective during that same 49 day period City played 14 games. In the overall period since the beginning of November City have played a total of 25 matches.
The question is - will City be better prepared and 'in the groove` having been playing consistently throughout the intervening weeks or will Basel be more ready given their extended break from football? Although Basel lost at home to FC Lugano on 4th Feb on their return to action from the break, they will go into their Champions League fixture on the back a 0-2 away victory over FC Thun at the weekend.
They are not to be taken lightly having defeated both Maureen`s Galacticos and then Benfica (away from home) in their final two games in the group stage. This is Basel's third appearance in the Champions League round of 16. In the 2011/12 campaign they beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the home leg before being trounced 7-0 in Germany.
Pep will doubtless have undertaken his usual meticulous research into his opponents though and planned accordingly. He will surely want to lock this tie up on the away leg and leave nothing to chance for the return fixture on March 7th at the Etihad. A strong side is expected with a side which more or less picks itself at present due to the injury count - the question mark about David Silva`s fitness aside, his biggest decision is likely to revolve around which centre backs to select. In this regard he may well opt for the returned John Stones and the fit again Vincent Kompany. De Bruyne will continue to weave his magic spells ably supported by the unsung hero and 'water carrier` of Fernandinho, surely one of the most under rated (outside Blues circles) players in the Premier League. Sergio will continue to spearhead the attack in the absence of Jesus, doubtless buoyed up by his scintillating goals scoring at the weekend. He will be hungry for the ball and seems increasingly aware that if he carries on playing like that then he will bag more goals - just as Pep promised a much younger charge at Barcelona all those years ago. Basel defenders have been given much food for thought.
Basel will be without veteran keeper Vaitati. Midfielder Luca Zuffi is a doubt.
City will be missing Mendy, Delph, Jesus and almost certainly Sané. David Silva is a doubt and we await Pep`s press conference for updates.
Referee - Jonas Eriksson (SWE)
Assistant referees - Mathias Klasenius (SWE); Daniel Wärnmark (SWE)
Fourth official - Mehmet Culum (SWE)
Additional bonus assistant referees with the Harry Potter wands
Andreas Ekberg (SWE); Stefan Johannesson (SWE)
Predicted City XI
Walker, Stones, Kompany, Danilo
De Bruyne, Fernandinho, D Silva/Gundogan*
B Silva, Aguero, Sterling
Bravo, Otamendi, Laporte, Zinchenko, Gundogan/D Silva*, Foden, Diaz
*Toure may feature should David Silva be ruled out altogether - his European experience preferred to the raw talent of young Lukas Nmecha
Pep will be keen to follow up Saturday`s emphatic victory with another solid win on Tuesday - he knows the importance of maintaining momentum especially at this most critical juncture in the season. The league finishing line is coming into sight but he will want to keep his players focused on the next game given that they don`t return to league action until the beginning of March after the FA Cup fifth round and the League Cup Final at the end of the month.
Plenty to play for and with the injury list set to shorten over the coming weeks the atmosphere in the City camp should be upbeat and focused on maintaining what has been a season where the superlatives keep on coming. They won`t want that to end.
One game at a time boys. One game at a time.
Come on City!!!