Manchester City are surely coasting into the Champions League quarter-finals for only the second time in their history after this emphatic win.
Pep Guardiola will be keen to guard against complacency and that his team retains focus when the last-16 second leg is played in three weeks time. Yet this was a dream result for the manager as it will allow him to rest players, should he wish, for the return leg.
Guardiola’s selection showed two changes from the win against Leicester on Saturday. Out went Oleksandr Zinchenko and Aymeric Laporte and in came Fabian Delph and Vincent Kompany, the captain making a first Champions League appearances since May 2016.
City faced the Swiss champions of the last eight seasons with Guardiola having warned how much harder this competition is to the Premier League and that a bad few minutes can mean elimination.
City started on the front foot and won three corners and an Ilkay Gündogan header that came after the first of these. Dimitri Oberlin had Basel’s opening chance and what an opportunity this was. The centre-forward raced behind City and, as Ederson charged out, should have chipped the goalkeeper but the effort was weak, allowing Nicolás Otamendi to clear
This was a warning for City to tighten up and eliminate the kind of amateurish defending that caused them to be knocked out at Monaco a year ago. When Oberlin again ran free, this time along the right, he drove into the area, collided with Otamendi and St Jakob Park roared for the penalty. Jonas Eriksson was unmoved which had Raphael Wicky complaining to the fourth official, Mehmet Culum.
Basel’s manager would have felt doubly aggrieved moments later as City took the lead. This was simple stuff: Kevin De Bruyne swung a corner in from the left and Gündogan beat Fabian Frei to head past Tomas Vaclik from a narrowing angle.
De Bruyne instigated the City second by rolling the ball along the left to Raheem Sterling. The winger crossed and Bernardo Silva beat Vaclik and Guardiola’s men were off to a flyer.
Imperative now was for City to keep playing while closing the holes they had thus far allowed. An effective way of doing this is to score again and so up stepped Sergio Agüero to beat Vaclik from outside the area: the Czech may have been wrong-footed but as with Gündogan’s strike he failed to move.
Vaclik’s next mistake was to mishandle after gathering and the ball squirmed out of play for a corner. Agüero’s goal had arrived after 23 minutes, which meant City’s ask was to be ultra-professional and keep their foot on Basel’s throat. De Bruyne again worried Vaclik’s goal with a skidding left-foot attempt.
As at the start of the first half Oberlin broke clear during the opening moments of the second period. This time Delph raced across from his left-back zone to nick the ball and the danger died.
Now, Mohamed Elyounoussi tested Ederson with Basel’s first shot, the Brazilian flinging himself impressively to his left to concede a corner.
This woke City up. Swift ball recycling between Delph, Kompany, Agüero and Otamendi took Guardiola’s side over halfway. After a Kyle Walker surge down the right play eventually switched to a central area and now City did have finish number four. This was classy from Gündogan – a neat step right to create space, a waft of his boot, and Vaclik was beaten again.
Oberlin went close with a header but, really, this was a demoralising task for the home side to try and save some face in front of their supporters. The pattern continued: City could attack at will, moving through the Swiss with the hypnotic pass-and-move play that has become familiar under Guardiola.
Guardiola was allowed the luxury of taking off Sterling and De Bruyne – on 57 and 63 minutes – and it was the former’s replacement, Leroy Sané who created City’s next chance.
The winger slipped down the left and found Gündogan, who missed a chance for a hat-trick by hitting feebly at Vaclik. In the final analysis, it mattered little.