Manchester City's class can see them gain first-leg advantage
Basel will look to contain and play on the counter
Last-16 first leg
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm Tuesday
“If you can beat one Manchester side you can beat the other,” is the mantra in the Basel dressing room, but anyone who saw City and United play over the weekend might think differently.
Twenty-four hours after Manchester City demolished Leicester 5-1 to go 16 points clear in the Premier League, United produced one of their no-shows at Newcastle.
So yes, Basel have indeed beaten United this season on their way to taking second place in Group A in the autumn, but it may well count for precious little on Tuesday night, despite what the Swiss champions would have you believe. Basel look to be the weakest link in the last 16 and City have got to be thrilled to be up against them.
Raphael Wicky’s men have a weapon or two to hurt any side and he’s convinced they are as strong now as they have been all season, even though the January window didn’t appear to do them any favours.
But City are a class apart and it’s just a case of whether that is demonstrable at a rowdy St Jakob-Park and, if so, how to side with Pep Guardiola’s superstars.
City to win in a game featuring under 3.5 goals could be the best bet.
As it is the first leg there is absolutely no pressure on either side to take risks early.
Basel will just want to stay in the tie as long as possible and will look to contain, playing on the counter.
The problem for them is that the exit of Manuel Akanji has left them short in defence and has led to Wicky returning from the winter break with a four-man defence rather than his preferred five.
He’d love to stick a third body – possibly Leo Lacroix – into a three-man defence to get the best out of wing-backs Michael Lang and Raoul Petretta, but personnel issues could prevent that happening.
It’s not ideal and, with Renato Steffen also departing, maybe helps to explain two fairly anaemic league efforts since their return to action, two matches which have produced just three goals.
Five of Basel’s six group games produced under 3.5 goals – two of which they lost – while four of Manchester City’s last five group games did likewise. They won three of those four, the only defeat coming when Guardiola sent out an understrength team to face Shakhtar in a dead rubber.
City have failed to score in only one of their last 28 away games while Basel have won just three of their last ten European home matches. St Jakob-Park used to be something of a fortress but that is definitely no longer the case. Basel aren’t even leading the Swiss Super League where Young Boys are calling the shots.
City, who won Group F with away wins in Feyenoord and Napoli, are renowned for blowing away sides, especially teams who give them space to play.
Basel won’t do that and will accept that they will be playing without the ball for long periods, and that’s why there is no guarantee this will be a high-scoring contest.
Manchester City & under 3.5 goals
1pt 13-10 Betway
Luca Zuffi is back in training after foot surgery.
Gabriel Jesus, Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph are out. David Silva is a doubt. Leroy Sane (ankle) had been expected to miss the game but is part of the 20-man squad.
Nine of City’s last 12 away matches have produced under 3.5 goals.
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