Manchester City swept past FC Basel in Switzerland to come within touching distance of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Goals from Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero earned Pep Guardiola’s team a comfortable win against a very respectable Basel side that beat Manchester United 1-0 at St Jakob-Park in the group stages – but never looked like repeating the feat here. Ahead of the return leg in early March, four crucial away goals have given the Swiss side a near-impossible task if they want to progress to the next round.
Here’s what I learned from City’s latest demolition job…
Gundogan Steps Up
I don’t know where else to start but with the man of the match. Ilkay Gundogan had an eventful night, to say the least, putting in one of his most memorable performances in a City shirt to date. The scoring was opened in the fourteenth minute when the German smartly headed in De Bruyne’s corner at the near post – only his second ever headed goal for City, which is perhaps unsurprising for a 6’0” midfielder. Not content with the one, Gundogan added his fourth of the season in the second half with a fantastic curling strike into the top corner to round off the scoring. He was understandably livid after falling victim to a poor challenge in the second half, even if his physical reaction was unjustifiable. With David Silva not always available for personal reasons, it was reassuring to see a top performance from his closest alternative in the squad.
The Cabinet of Dr. Cugat
It was a great night for Manchester City’s medical staff, with three players making returns from injury. Fabian Delph had a solid night at left-back once again, and David Silva came off the bench to replace Kevin De Bruyne later on, but perhaps the biggest surprise was Leroy Sané’s comeback after sustaining what looked like a six-week injury back in late January. While Sané and Silva shook off the cobwebs, Delph impressed with some excellent tackles, and those of a blue persuasion were left thanking Dr Ramon Cugat. Cugat is a Spanish Orthopedic surgeon whom Pep Guardiola has favoured for several years, operating in Barcelona and widely renowned as one of the best in his field in the world. After the part he played in the miraculously quick return of Sané, City fans will be hoping he can achieve something similar with Gabriel Jesus…
Supporting Cast Impress
Like Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker have flown under the radar this season while the big names around them steal the headlines – but tonight the trio shone brighter than most. Walker was his usual industrious self, powering forward at a frightening pace and beating defenders with his deceptively skillful dribbling. Meanwhile, Bernardo lit up the pitch with a silky-smooth display, rarely conceding possession and gliding across the turf like a very tiny Portuguese hovercraft. His goal, the second of the game, was Messi-esque, as he controlled the ball on his chest before hooking a volley into the far corner via a touch from the helpless goalkeeper. Three top players came off the bench in Sané, Silva and Danilo to showcase the depth in all three outfield disciplines that Guardiola has at his disposal. This game was a fine example of why Manchester City have one of the best squads- not just the best team- in the world.
Aguero Doesn’t Care Who He Destroys
From Watford to West Bromwich Albion, Bristol City to Burnley and now Basel, Sergio Aguero’s staggering start to 2018 just keeps getting better. I’ve been one of his harshest critics at times since Guardiola’s arrival, but when he’s scoring like this I have nothing but praise for City’s record goalscorer. In this game, the Argentine bagged his 14th goal since New Year’s Day when he fired a brilliant dipping shot past Vaclik to make it 0-3. It was the kind of finish you would associate with Aguero just by watching, the kind very few players in world football could score on this kind of stage. The injury to Gabriel Jesus is a big blow to City, but it’s much easier not to miss him when your star striker is in such incredible form.