St Jakob-Park is an arena to make Premier League clubs shudder.
Bloodied noses have been given to them with abandon in the Champions League by Basel, a side capable of regularly making light of the financial disparity at play when the English are in town.
Manchester City are the latest moneyed opponents to head to Switzerland for Tuesday’s round-of-16 opener. Are the omens still so negative, or have this bogey side lost their lustre?
Manchester United were beaten 1-0 to little ill effect earlier this season, although the ramifications for 2011/12’s 2-1 reversal were more severe. They failed to advance past the groups for just the third time in 17 years and lost inspirational captain Nemanja Vidic to a serious knee injury he would never truly recover from.
A certain Mohamed Salah helped down Chelsea in November 2013. His – other – future employers Liverpool stuttered to a damaging 1-0 loss in October 2014 and played out a memorable 3-3 draw all the way back in November 2002.
All results to make manager Pep Guardiola take notice, despite the protective shield provided by a runaway 16-point lead in the Premier League and the European elite’s best away-win ratio of 80 per cent.
But this is not a vintage Basel. Not by a long stretch.
Emerging Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji was sold to Borussia Dortmund in January. No defenders were bought as replacements.
Instead, the clock was turned back for old boys such as Fabian Frei and Valentin Stocker – a duo last seen making little impression in the Bundesliga. A sign of desperation?
The eight-time successive Swiss Super League holders sit five points off the pace this time, trailing in Young Boys’ wake. Lugano stormed their St Jakob-Park fortress when the long winter break ended earlier this month.
The walls have also been crumbling in Europe. They have won just three of their last ten home matches, with four losses in that run.
Even if City’s superstars – somehow – come unstuck, home wins against Porto and Bayern Munich in Basel’s previous round-of-16 forays were followed by away losses to a combined score of 11-0.
Guardiola can sleep easy.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the game.
City strong favourites
As one of the form sides in Europe, Pep Guardiola‘s men will be expected to brush past the Swiss Super League outfit. City have made easy work of the competition so far, chalking up a couple of impressive victories over Napoli and winning heavily at Feyenoord.
Their only slip-up came in a dead rubber at Shakhtar Donetsk. Since the group stage they have powered on domestically, opening up a 16-point lead at the top of the Premier League, reaching the Carabao Cup final and maintaining interest in the FA Cup. Over two legs, Basel are not expected to derail the quadruple quest.
Importance of the Champions League
The Champions League is the prize those at the top of the City hierarchy covet the most. It would plant them firmly on the European map and validate a decade’s work.
Supporters, having been slow to warm to the Champions League, do still view the Premier League as top priority but, with that title now all but secured, they are embracing the continental adventure.
A special season is unfolding at the Etihad Stadium and there is growing belief City can go all the way. They certainly look as strong, if not stronger, than any of the heavyweights remaining in the competition.
Guardiola will not look that far ahead
Guardiola will sound a note of caution. Aside from the 2016 run to the semi-finals, the last 16 has proved sticky ground for City and the memory of last season’s exit to Monaco lingers. City were expected to progress after winning a remarkable first leg 5-3 but then came unstuck.
Guardiola views the Champions League as “the most beautiful” competition and, having won it twice with Barcelona, he will want a third crown but he insisted at the weekend that he was taking it a step at a time. “The next step forward from last season is to achieve the quarter-finals,” he said.
Weekend headline-grabbers the men to stop
City have match winners all over the field and Basel’s task of stopping them is an unenviable one. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne did most of the damage in Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Leicester, maintaining their brilliant recent form.
Aguero’s four goals took his tally for the season to 28, with 12 coming in his last 10 games. The Argentinian appears to have responded well to recent unfulfilled talk of signing Alexis Sanchez and injury to Gabriel Jesus. De Bruyne has been irrepressible all season and his three assists at the weekend underlined his continuing brilliance.
Basel beat Manchester United in November but have since lost two key players with defender Manuel Akanji and midfielder Renato Steffen leaving in January. They are also still to get back into their stride having lost to Lugano and laboured to victory over lowly Thun in their two matches since their winter break.
An injury to defender Eder Balanta has also given coach Raphael Wicky an extra headache.
Provided by Press Association Sport
European glamour is back. Two in-form sides lock horns on Tuesday night as Tottenham head to Turin with their chests puffed out having seen off Manchester United and Arsenal, while Juventus have not lost in all competitions since November 19.
Below we sift through the key storylines – and why a revitalised Gonzalo Higuain is one to watch.
SPURS BRING THEIR A-GAME AGAINST THE BEST
Mauricio Pochettino is an astute tactician and innovative football manager but even the best can be undone by an underdog that strives to stifle rather than outplay. That’s why Spurs have faltered against lesser opposition this season, leaving them well off the pace in a Premier League title race now dominated by Manchester City.
A 4-1 battering against the champions elect aside, Tottenham have traditionally excelled in big games. In their last three league outings they have beaten Manchester United and Arsenal and drawn against Liverpool. They also managed a 4-1 win over the Anfield outfit earlier in the season, beat Borussia Dortmund twice in Europe while drawing against and defeating reigning Champions League winners Real Madrid.
Pochettino has a knack for setting his side up perfectly for a big game and for whatever reason, his players up the ante when challenged by the best. An overwhelming desire to prove they belong among the elite despite the absence of silverware, perhaps?
STAGE SET FOR HIGUAIN TO COME GOOD
Speaking of a desire to belong, Harry Kane is quickly proving that he does indeed deserve to be spoken in the same breath as the finest strikers in Europe. His incredible goal-scoring record has seen his name uttered alongside Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez.
One star that appears to have dropped out of such discussions is Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine seemed to realise his full potential at Napoli following his spell at Real Madrid.
After scoring 32 times in 55 appearance during his maiden campaign for Juventus last season, he has suffered a drastic dip in form, with his fitness regularly being called into question. However, he’s started to show signs of life over the past couple of weeks, scoring five goals in three Serie A games, including a hat-trick against Sassuolo.
His current run of form ended a seven-game drought though and how he will cope against a formidable Spurs side remains to be seen. With Paulo Dybala being a bit hit and miss this season and a doubt for this fixture as well, the onus will be on Higuain to deliver the goods.
What makes this tie ever so intriguing is the form both sides have shown going into it.
We’ve already touched upon Spurs’ recent form, gaining vital results against three of the top six over the span of an 11 day period. They’re also currently enjoying a 12-match unbeaten run.
Juventus though perhaps come into this fixture in even better form, winning 11 matches on the bounce in all competitions, scoring 16 goals and conceding just once.
An even more daunting stat as far as Spurs are concerned is that Juventus are unbeaten in 26 European home matches since April 2013.
As if facing the team that’s chasing their seventh successive Serie A title and third Champions League final in four years wasn’t enough.