Ilkay Gundogan scored twice as Manchester City put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals with an emphatic 4-0 win over Basel.
In-form Sergio Aguero scored his 198th City goal and Bernardo Silva also got on the scoresheet as Pep Guardiola’s side cruised to victory on a freezing night at St Jakob-Park.
Most of the damage was done as City rattled in three goals in a blistering nine-minute spell early in the first half, dashing Basel’s hopes of causing an upset after making a bright start.
Gundogan struck a sublime second after the break but the Premier League leaders were cruising by then, having eased off to conserve energy in their continuing quadruple quest.
Kevin De Bruyne was removed from the action early and Guardiola also eased Leroy Sane back into action as a second-half substitute following his rapid recovery from an ankle injury.
It was not long before City established control, although they did survive a couple of early scares.
First the pacy Dimitri Oberlin got behind the defence as he raced onto a long ball. He had options as Ederson raced out to meet him, including trying to lob the advancing keeper, but he miskicked and allowed Nicolas Otamendi to clear.
Otamendi and Oberlin were involved again as the Basel striker went down in the area attempting to beat the Argentinian but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson gave nothing.
City made the most of those reprieves to power into a commanding lead.
Gundogan, who had already tested Tomas Vaclik with an early header, got the opener when he met a 14th-minute De Bruyne corner with another firm header at the near post.
A second goal quickly followed as Raheem Sterling’s cross from the left was cleared only as far as Bernardo Silva by Leo Lacroix. With time and space to compose himself, the Portuguese allowed the ball to drop before hitting a firm half-volley past Vaclik.
The visitors were now rampant and the tie soon seemed as a good as over as Aguero let fly from outside the area to register his 29th goal of the season after a charge upfield by Fernandinho. The Argentinian’s powerful shot rocketed into the bottom corner in another example of clinical finishing following his four strikes against Leicester at the weekend.
That allowed Guardiola’s men to drop the tempo but De Bruyne still went close as he shot over before the break.
Basel started the second half well, with Mohamed Elyounoussi testing Ederson from distance and Oberlin dragging a shot across the face of goal, but they remained vulnerable to City’s attack.
Gundogan put City even further in front when he wrong-footed the defence and fired a superb curling shot beyond Vaclik from the edge of the area.
He should have completed a hat-trick after being teed up by Aguero in the latter stages but Vaclik saved. Aguero was given a big hug by Guardiola as he left the field soon after.
Basel fought on, with Oberlin heading wide and Elyounoussi shooting at Ederson, but the Swiss champions were well beaten and their frustrations showed as tempers threatened to boil over in the closing minutes.
Manchester City can already start planning for the quarter-finals after romping to a 4-0 victory over Basel in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie.
The Premier League side were 3-0 up by the 23rd minute as Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero all conjured up sublime goals. Gundogan arguably scored the best of the night in the second half – but who were the other star performers?
Check our ratings below:
Ederson – Dimitri Oberlin beat him to a one-on-one but his rush off the line distracted him enough. Safe hands otherwise, especially dealing with Basel’s very early attacking intent. 6
Kyle Walker – Basel dared play down his flank very few times and he’s such a potent attacking outlet, completing a total of six dribbles. Remained a livewire until the end. 8
Nicolas Otamendi – Was troubled by Dimitri Oberlin for the brief time the scores were level and could have given away a penalty. Looked slow to react when ever sized up by an attacker in the box. 5
Vincent Kompany – Less obvious than his centre-back partner – in this case a good thing. Played Oberlin onside in one dangerous moment but generally took charge at the back. 6
Fabian Delph – Not fooling anyone into thinking he’s a natural full-back but another neat and tidy performance, even though Basel tried to expose the right-hand side several times. 6
Fernandinho – Rampaging run led to Aguero’s goal. Was the man against boys in the middle of the park – made four interceptions, better than anyone on the field. 8
Ilkay Gundogan – That the German is still not a guaranteed starter speaks to the depth of City’s squad. A header of supreme quality before his wonderful second-half strike – though the only blight was his wayward passing at times. 9
Kevin De Bruyne – City’s conductor-in-chief was not entirely in sync the whole way through, despite some trademark sweeping passes. 7
Bernardo Silva – A consistent run of games is bearing fruit for Bernardo and his sweet, looping strike in the first half underlined that fact. Enjoying playing off the right. 8
Raheem Sterling – Used his pace but not to hugely great effect – should have scored after the break after getting in behind Basel’s line. Still proved a danger. 7
Sergio Aguero – On first glance the goalkeeper should have saved his strike. On second you were very mistaken. Took the ball from deep and tormented Basel time and time again. 8
Leroy Sane – Turned a seven-week injury into two but there was no miracle performance here. Looked severely off the pace – and for good reason. 5
David Silva – Subdued upon return from injury but game was up and there was no need for heroics. 6
Danilo – Replaced Aguero with five minutes to go. N/A
Forward Roberto Firmino does not know if Champions League opponents Porto are afraid of Liverpool and their goalscoring threat but he hopes to make them suffer in the Estadio do Dragao.
Jurgen Klopp’s side qualified unbeaten top of their group after scoring 23 goals, a record for an English club and a competition total surpassed only by Paris St Germain (25), also this season.
Nineteen of those goals came from Firmino (six), Mo Salah (five), Coutinho (five) and Sadio Mane (three) and although one of that quartet is now with Barcelona it does not make them much less of a threat.
“I don’t know if Porto are going to be afraid but we are going to make their life difficult and make them suffer,” said Firmino, who has 20 goals for the season in all competitions.
The Brazil international’s tally for the Champions League this season is only bettered by Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has nine, and is on a par with PSG pair Neymar and Edinson Cavani, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Sevilla’s Wissam ben Yedder.
Asked whether he felt he belonged in such rarefied company Firmino added: “Of course I want to be at their level but I only focus on playing a good game.
“If I play a good game then the goals will appear. I am trying to give my maximum for the team and trying to be alongside these great players in Europe.”
Firmino has scored four times in his last six matches and his contribution has helped lessen the impact of compatriot Coutinho’s departure to the Nou Camp.
“Coutinho is a great player and of course when he left that put a greater responsibility on everyone else to perform without him,” he added.
“But it is our job to deal with greater responsibility and I think we have done that so far.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 13, 2018
The draw against Porto was a kindly one for Liverpool but even after their goalscoring exploits in the group stage no-one is tipping them to challenge the established Champions League order of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus.
It was put to Klopp than no-one fancied the Reds side which won in Istanbul in 2005 after scraping through the group stage with a last-gasp win over Olympiacos.
That provoked a blunt response from the German.
“I don’t think the 2005 side thought about winning the Champions League before the last 16,” he said.
“I’ll ask Rafa (Benitez) but that would surprise me because it makes no sense.
“If we are in the final then I’ll say we will try to win it but that is too far off.
“I don’t like talking about the round after the round you are playing, in fact I hate it.
“I only answer nicely now because I am friendly and we are in public but if someone asked me about the round after the round in private I would leave the room.”
Klopp has confirmed Loris Karius, who has taken over as first-choice goalkeeper, will start in Portugal but refused to expand on what that means for Simon Mignolet.
“No-one knows about the future. It is not for me to think about these things, I have to make a decision for tomorrow night,” he said.