Venue: St. Jakob-Park
Date: 13 February 2018
Referee: Jonas Eriksson
Kick off: 19:45
Manchester City return to continental duties on Tuesday evening when Swiss powerhouse FC Basel host the Blues in the Champions League Round of 16. Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Switzerland on the back of an impressive 5-1 victory over Leicester at the weekend and will face the arguably easiest draw of the round. Yet Basel have shown that they are not to be underestimated after advancing in a group consisting of Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, and Benfica.
David Silva, Leroy Sané and Fabian Delph have returned to the first-team training and were involved in today’s session. Considering they are just back, it might be unlikely to see any of the three starting in Basel but all three are travelling. Aymeric Laporte is also on the plane to Switzerland despite not having trained on Monday. Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy continue to miss out.
Basel have been the dominant force in Swiss football for the past decade, winning nine out of ten national championships and the past eight consecutive league titles. In his debut season, manager Raphael Wicky, who previously coached Basel’s youth set-up, has not been able to replicate this dominant form as the RotBlau currently sit five points behind league leaders BSC Young Boys. Their strong form on a continental level has overshadowed the comparatively poor domestic showings.
On the domestic front, Wicky often starts four at the back whereas he shifted to three at the back in Champions League games, and that is likely to be his preferred set-up for Tuesday as well. With centre-half talent Manuel Akanji (to Borussia Dortmund) and winger Renato Steffen (to Wolfsburg) both moving to the German Bundesliga, Basel lost two of their most highly-rated players in the January transfer period. Akanji has been replaced by Swiss international Leo Lacroix whereas the return of former Basel player Valentin Stocker targets the gap caused by the departure of Steffen.
Basel have shown that they can compete with the likes of Benfica, United, and CSKA, even surprisingly beating United in Switzerland, thus making Wicky’s side a force to be reckoned with, particularly on home soil. However, City have shown this season that only few teams can truly challenge the dominant force the Citizens have emerged as since September.
To essentially kill the draw early on, one could see Guardiola fielding a strong line-up. Given these components, I will go for a convincing 4-1 City win with the in-form Sergio Aguero scoring the opener.