Do not underestimate FC Basel

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It’s back to Europe on Thursday night. Christian Gross is the only common denominator between Basel FC and us that I’m aware of. The tube ticket touting Swiss was “You’re hired!” by Alan Sugar in 1997 and proclaimed by the press as our response to Arsene Wenger which was both lazy and inaccurate given that the bald chap’s won three more trophies than the French failure in the past eight seasons.

After one season with us where he became the subject of much press ridicule Gross disappeared to take charge at Basel and lead them to eight domestic titles and cups and some decent runs in the Moneybags League. He left the Swiss team in 2009 but they’ve continued to prosper since then; last season they beat and drew with Man Utd during the group stages of the CL and also beat Bayern Munich at home (before getting turned over 7-0 in the second leg) in the first of the knockout stages. Current manager is Murat Yakin, a Swiss of Turkish descent who has been in charge since October last year.

They’ve reached the quarter-finals thanks to knockout wins over Dnipro and Zenit. They sit top of the Swiss Super League, unbeaten at home, three defeats on the road. Marco Streller and Alex Frei are no spring chickens but still appear to be their main men up front. Two defenders and a midfielder Philipp Degen, Park Joo Hoo and Diaz are suspended for Thursday’s game.

For us, Friedel will continue in goal, Naughton will move to the right for the suspended Walker and Benny will come in on the left. Assuming that Villas-Boas doesn’t give Holtby or Dempsey a surprise start the rest of the side picks itself apart from at centre back where the manager has a habit of making changes with Gallas often starting in European games. A middle pairing of the Frenchman and Dawson is a fair guess.

Basel shouldn’t be underestimated, seeing off Zenit (with 10 men for much of the second game) was an excellent result. Lyon and Inter Milan provided opposition of prestige and stature in the last two round’s but this fixture’s going to have to make it’s own romance. We need to start at a good tempo, try for an early goal and take our chances, all the usual things.

The match officials are from Serbia, at the risk of stereotyping, one imagines them to be a fairly take-no-shit bunch. COYS.

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