Manchester City travel to Switzerland to face Basel in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.
Here, FP 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.
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