Three points from Manchester City’s 2-1 loss to Basel that still easily sees them through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League 5-2 on aggregate.
1. Man City on to harder tests
Pep Guardiola suffered just his second career defeat at the Etihad Stadium and first of this season, although his Manchester City side still comfortably reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Such has been City’s dominance in the Premier League and group stage of the Champions League that every loss is a surprise, although this was hardly as seismic as the shock FA Cup defeat to League One side Wigan Athletic.
The hard work was done three weeks ago in Switzerland with a swaggering and stylish 4-0 victory that made the second leg at the Etihad Stadium a virtual irrelevance. It’s only the second time that the club has ever reached the last eight of the competition. Guardiola, on the other hand, has only missed out on the semifinals once as a coach, that coming in his first year at City. His team have been named as one of the favourites for the tournament, but the City boss is aware that Barcelona, Bayern Munich and even an out-of-form Real Madrid have more European savvy than City.
Not that it should have mattered against the Swiss champions. Guardiola spoke about the dangers of taking Basel for granted before the game, but his lineup reflected the reality of the situation with seven starters 23 or younger. He allowed David Silva to return to Spain while Ederson, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi were left on the bench in case of a calamity.
Turning the tie around was never likely to happen and Gabriel Jesus appeared to kill off all hope after just eight minutes when he tapped in Bernardo Silva’s cross at the far post.
But Basel did at least show some of the quality that saw them shock Premier League rivals Manchester United with a 1-0 win in the group stage. Mohamed Elyounoussi drilled in a 17th-minute leveller and they took the lead with 20 minutes remaining when Michael Lang fired past Bravo at his near post to exit the tournament with an impressive victory.
Now Guardiola and company will turn their attention to the quarterfinals, where sterner tests will surely await once the last eight is set.
2. Gabriel back in business
Such has been the form of Aguero that Jesus’ absence from the City squad has been hardly felt in 2018. The Brazil international has not started any of City’s last 15 matches after straining ligaments in the New Year’s Eve draw at Crystal Palace when he left the pitch in tears. Thankfully that injury wasn’t as serious as the 20-year-old feared, particularly with the World Cup in the summer.
Indeed, the forced three-month hiatus could be a huge benefit for the national team as well as City as they enter the final months of the season aiming to rubber-stamp their Premier League success and push for European glory.
After an impressive start to the season — when he scored 10 times from 17 appearances — Jesus failed to score in his next 10 appearances.
But there were no signs of rustiness against Basel as he blazed across the pitch, taking just eight minutes to open the scoring from Sane’s cross for his third goal in the Champions League this season. He dragged centre-backs Fabian Frei and Marek Suchy all over the Etihad Stadium with a selfless and hardworking display that will have delighted Guardiola.
City face a potential nightmare run of fixtures in April if they reach the last four in Europe, with games at least every three days. Guardiola will be desperate to be able to call on two strikers in top-form.
3. Teenager Foden gets his kicks
Guardiola has a fine reputation for bringing through Academy products at previous clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but since taking over at City he has generally relied on his senior players.
The exception from City’s youth set-up is Phil Foden, who has been with the training first team all season despite his young age, and the City boss has enthused about the 17-year-old midfielder ever since his first appearance on the preseason tour of the United States — telling fans in Houston that they were lucky to be the first to witness his talent.
Foden was handed his third first-team start against Basel — becoming the youngest English player ever to feature in the Champions League knockout stages.
He took his opportunity to impress with a performance of courage and tenacity. Inside the first 10 minutes he collected the ball in his own penalty area under pressure from two Basel players and confidently set up a City attack. And 60 seconds later he was in the opponent’s half, quickly winning the ball back after a misplaced Silva pass. However, he fluffed his chance to score in the 36th minute with an airshot after the ball dropped to him on the edge of the box.
Guardiola came in for plenty of criticism when he only named six players on the bench for the recent Premier League clash with Burnley, but the fact is he won’t simply give youth team players an opportunity for the sake of it.
Foden would have had more opportunities had it not been for an ankle ligament injury that ruled him out for two months after his last start. Judging by his performance against Basel and the way he fits into Guardiola’s system, he will have even more chances in the future.