If Manchester City are to replicate their league form and go on to dominate this year’s Champions League in a similar fashion, it would ensure a season of outright domination. With their second-round game against Basel on Tuesday night looming, some may be looking beyond the last 16. However, in Basel, they face a test that might stretch them more than the general assumption may be.
Raphaël Wicky’s side will have a bounce in their step having beaten City’s closest rivals in November when Jose Mourinho’s side came to Switzerland expecting to keep their 100% record in the tournament intact. United had beaten Basel 3-0 in their home fixture with goals from Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini.
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With the return game at St-Jakob Park seemingly destined for a draw, despite Mourinho believing United should have been 5-0 ahead at half-time, Basel pulled off a surprise win. Michael Lang’s effort ensured that United would have to wait for their final match against CSKA Moscow to guarantee qualification.
The hosts will have one factor in their favour as a given. Basel itself is a modest-sized city with a population of 200,000. However, filling the stadium has not proven to be problematic on European nights at the 38,000 capacity ground. Pep Guardiola should expect a fervent, if not overtly hostile atmosphere.
Basel have had continued financial backing since the 1990s. The stability of the club is a legacy to their former Chairman Rene Jaeggi. During his tenure from 1991 to 1996, he oversaw the club moving to their current stadium and becoming Swizz champions for the first time in 22 years. During this five-year period, Basel also took part in the Champions League for the first time.
With a reliance on a functioning youth system that is well organised and productive, Basel have become regulars in European football.
Not only that, but Basel have a habit of eliminating apparently superior English opposition from Europe. They eliminated United in the group stage in the 2011/12 competition. The following year they drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur and more impressive than that, they beat Chelsea at home and at Stamford Bridge in an impressive double in 2013/14.
Basel will most likely line out in a 3-4-3 formation against City with Lang and Raoul Petretta adding the flexibility that can turn a cohesive defensive unit into a swift counter-attacking side with little fuss.
In Marek Suchy, they have a central defender of considerable presence. The 29-year-old Czech Republic international is able to play a central midfield role also but it is likely that Wicky will use his guile, awareness and physicality in the heart of a defence that will undoubtedly come in for periods of intense pressure against the City attack.
If their rear-guard holds, Basel have the form to show that they are capable of mixing it with the best. Guardiola’s City might be seen as just out of reach. However, it is not the first time the odds have been stacked against the Swizz side.