City ease through despite rare home loss to Basel
MANCHESTER: Manchester City secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals yesterday but did little to enhance their tag as favourites to win the competition as a much-changed side suffered a shock 2-1 home defeat by Basel. Despite losing for just the fourth time all season, the runaway Premier League leaders still cruised through 5-2 on aggregate after doing the hard work in Switzerland three weeks ago.
City manager Pep Guardiola could afford the luxury of making six changes from Sunday’s dominant 1-0 win over Chelsea, but still saw his side extend their aggregate advantage early on when Gabriel Jesus tapped home after just eight minutes.
However, Mohamed Elyounoussi exposed some slack City defending to smash in an equaliser for the Swiss champions nine minutes later before Michael Lang rocketed home a spectacular winner 19 minutes from time. City could have the Premier League mathematically wrapped up by the time they are next in Champions League action in early April. And on this evidence they will need the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to be well-rested and in-form if they are to deliver the dream of their Abu Dhabi owners by winning the European Cup for a first time as a number of youngsters and fringe players failed to impress. Leroy Sane was one of few regular starters retained in Guardiola’s starting XI and continued his supreme form by creating the opener. Jesus hadn’t started since suffering knee ligament damage on New Years’ Eve, but had the simplest of tasks to get back among the goals when Bernardo Silva latched onto Sane’s pass to produce a inch-perfect low cross for the Brazilian.
City should have gone even further in front as Silva’s shot from a dangerous Sane cut-back was blocked before Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik made a fine block to deny Ilkay Gundogan his third goal of the tie. However, a minute later Basel were level as Blas Riveros burst down the left and his deflected cross was dispatched powerfully past Claudio Bravo by Elyounoussi.
The Norwegian then had a great chance to put Basel in front on the half hour mark when he miscued horribly wide with just Bravo to beat after outmuscling Danilo.
Guardiola grew visibly frustrated on the touchline as his side also started the second period slowly. And they were punished when Elyounoussi’s low cross was blasted past Bravo at his near post from a narrow angle by Lang.
Substitute Brahim Diaz came closest to a reply but his low driven effort was turned behind by Vaclik to consign City to a first home defeat since December 2016. – AFP