Pep Guardiola's Manchester City travel to Switzerland to take on FC Basel in the two teams first ever encounter and Steve Rawlings fancies they'll be revved up and ready to justify Champions League favouritism...
“There’ll be no holding back by Pep’s men after last year’s round of 16 debacle and no lead will be deemed big enough to take back to the Etihad. They’re going to come out of the gates flying and I can see goals aplenty. And not just for the visitors.”
FC Basel v Manchester City
Tuesday 13 February, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 3
Consistent Basel ready for City challenge
Basel bounced back after a surprise 0-1 home defeat to Lugano last week with a straightforward 2-0 win away at Thun on Saturday evening and whilst they still trail Young Boys by five points in the Swiss Super League, they're odds-on chances to win it again, so things are ticking along nicely enough domestically.
After losing 3-0 away at Manchester United in their opening group game, Basel won four of their remaining five Champions League group games to comfortably qualify from Group A and following their 1-0 win against United in November, they've now won four of their last five Champions League fixtures against English opposition in the Champions League at St. Jacob Park.
Those stats are impressive but they were well beaten by Arsenal at home last year (1-4) and they certainly rode their luck against United in November. Jose Mourinho's charges struck the woodwork twice in the first half and the United manager had this to say about the defeat afterwards.
"I think if we play a match like this 10 times, nine we win comfortably. In one we lose - and the one was now."
Basel have twice before qualified for the round of 16 but they're yet to progress to the quarter-finals and given how well their opponents are playing, they're going to be hard pushed to make it third time lucky.
Is it 'blip' over for City?
A second half Sergio Aguero masterclass against Leicester City on Saturday evening and a shock win for Newcastle against Manchester United yesterday, have seen City's lead at the top of the Premier League extend to a whopping 16 points and it's very hard to envisage that prize slipping from their grasp now with just 13 games remaining.
They're still in the FA Cup and they've fortuitously stuttered their way to the Carabao Cup final so they're still fighting on all four trophy fronts but this is the competition the owners want most of all and Pep Guardiola's preparation for tomorrow night's tie will have been meticulous in the extreme.
Three Premier League away games without a win can be described as a blip in the context of City's remarkable season but the mini break afforded to the squad after their 1-1 draw at Burnley appears to have had the desired effect, if the 5-1 win against Leicester is anything to go by, and I fancy we'll see a return to the sort of devastating European form that saw them blast past Feyenoord (4-0) and Napoli (4-2) away from home in the group stage.
Pep's men ready to banish Monaco memories
An historic and statistical case can certainly be made for the home side. On the two previous occasions Basel qualified for the knockout phase, they put up bold displays at home, beating eventual finalists Bayern Munich 1-0 in 2012 and drawing 1-1 with Porto three years later and City's record away is nothing to write home about. This is the fifth season in-a-row they've made it to the knockout phase but they've only once progressed past the round of 16 and they've won just one of six Champions League knockout matches away from the Etihad - beating Dynamo Kiev 3-1 two years ago on their way to the semi-finals where they lost to Real Madrid.
Their latest knockout phase slip-up away from home in the Champions League was at Monaco last year when they failed to nurse home a 5-3 first leg advantage - losing 3-1 at the Stade Louis II. That was the first time Pep failed to reach the semi-final stage in eight campaigns as a coach and while there were humiliating Premier League defeats at Leicester and Everton in his first season in charge of City, that loss in France would have stung the most.
Stats suggest City are likely to concede
Following that defeat to Monaco, this year's Champions League qualifying campaign by City was ruthless. They lost their final group game - away to Shakhtar Donetsk - but that was with a much-weakened side after qualification as group winners had already been assured with five straight victories and a return to the merciless Man City can be expected tomorrow.
There'll be no holding back by Pep's men after last year's round of 16 debacle and no lead will be deemed big enough to take back to the Etihad. They're going to come out of the gates flying and I can see goals aplenty. And not just for the visitors.
City have conceded in eight of their ten games played so far this year with Championship side, Cardiff, and Premier League strugglers, West Brom, the only teams failing to notch, and they've conceded at least once in every previous Champions League knockout phase away match they've played. With red-hot 20-year-old, Dimitri Oberlin, who scored four times in qualification and again on Saturday in the Swiss Super League, in their team, there's always a goal threat from the home side and both teams scoring looks likely.
City's scintillating second half display against Leicester sets them up nicely for tomorrow night's clash and the tournament favourites aren't too short at [1.36] to brush aside Basel in their first ever encounter.
Pep will have his side revved up and ready and we could be set for a great evening's entertainment. Manchester City to win and both teams to score at 15/8 looks tasty and I also like Manchester City and over 3.5 and 4.5 goals at 15/8 and 7/2 respectively.