Well, last Friday (12 April) was that time of the year when the Europa League semi-final draws take place. And, as the only English team in Europe, we were anxious to see which team is going to be our next opponent – Basel, Fenerbahce or Benfica? We knew Benfica very well & they knew us too, especially when we disqualified them from last year’s Champions League campaign and also after we bought Ramires and David Luiz (but unfortunately gave them Nemanja Matic…but that’s not the subject – not going to discuss this here). Fenerbahce is Raul Meireles’ current team, we don’t have a big history against them – we only faced them in the Champions League in the 2007/8 campaign when we were defeated 2-1 in Turkey and then we beat them 2-0 at home in the second leg. Basel, on the other hand, are extremely motivated after they’ve knocked out Tottenham after two fantastic games that ended 2-2 (4-4 aggregate), followed by penalties in Switzerland, which Basel won with the fantastic score of 4-1.
The attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Valentin Stocker and Marco Streller aggressively pressed the Spurs defenders. This resulted in the visitors losing possession in dangerous areas, as well as, being compelled to play out futile long balls due the lack of options.
Basel’s midfielders, Geoffrey Serey Die and Mohamed Elneny, too were pivotal in their team’s pressing game.
So, the question is what do we know about Basel and their current team? Which players should we watch out for the most? Are they going to be a walk in the park for us?
One [can/does] not simply forget the way Basel knocked out Manutd from the Champions League last season. 3-3 away and then a precious 2-1 home victory saw Basel (and Benfica) advancing in the next stage, leaving Manutd and Otelul out of the Champions League (funny thing – Manutd fans were laughing at us when we were knocked out from a group with Shakhtar and Juventus – absolute hypocrits…still not the subject though). But let’s look at the current team.
Yann Sommer: Born: 17 December 1988 (age 24) – a fantastic young goalkeeper who showed great reflexes vs. Tottenham and was one of the main reasons why Basel knocked out their English opponents. He was first choice goalkeeper 2011-12 and at the end of the 2011–12 season he won the Double, the League Championship title and the Swiss Cup (last sentence via Wikipedia).
Park Joo-Ho: Born: 16 January 1987 (age 26) – left wingback. Good player. He’s their first choice left back. Showed some nice skills vs. Spuds.
Philipp Degen: Born: 15 February 1983 (age 30) – right wingback. Had an unfortunate time at Liverpool from 2008 to 2011. Our current beloved manager said this on Degen’s transfer in Liverpool: “He is an offensive player with great energy and a winning mentality. His strength is going forward and I am confident he will be prove to be a quality addition to our squad.” Imagine that…
Aleksandar Dragovic: Born: 6 March 1991 (age 22) – centre back. He looked very unpredictable vs. Spuds. He made a great mistake (although the pitch was really slippery) to give Spuds their first goal of the game but he also showed some good defending an he scored a goal in the game. We might wanna look out for him but at the same time try to attack in his zone.
Fabian Schär: Born: 20 December 1991 (age 21) – centre back. Played a good game vs Spuds. Looked confident in both defense and attack. He had a great shot in the very beginning of the game from a free kick but didn’t manage to score. Boy looked talented.
Serey Die: Born: 7 November 1984 (age 28) – one of the best on the bitch. He showed great spirit, never afraid of going forward, creating chances. He played his heart out, gotta give it to the lad. One player to watch out for, definitely.
Mohamed El-Nenny: Born: 15 June 1992 (age 20) – another great young player. Again not many things to say – fantastic spirit, going forward, never afraid to try his luck and ‘pull the trigger’ – one of his shots hit the post and you could see raindrops falling from the bar. It was a powerful shot. He wasn’t afraid to shoot but was unlucky to score. Good player.
Valentin Stocker: Born: 12 April 1989 (age 24) – fantastic player, playing for Basel since he was 16 and a half. A goalscoring left midfielder, who will give us major headaches, that’s for certain. Highlight of his career came this season in the Europa League. Due to an injury Marco Streller and due an illness Alexander Frei were both unable to play the Europa League knockout phase match against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk on 21 February 2013. Therefore Stocker was nominated as team captain for the very first time and he led the Basel team to a 1-1 away draw and they qualified for the round of 16 – via Wikipedia (thanks again).
Fabien Frei: Born: 8 January 1989 (age 24) – out of all Basel players, EXCLUDING Alexander Frei, I’ve probably seen Fabien Frei (not related to Alexander – just wanted to say it in case someone didn’t know.) play the most. He played vs. Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia a few years ago when they qualified for Europa League (UEFA Cup in 2009, if I’m not mistaken) and even then he was someone to look after. Between 2005 and 2007 he was a part of Basel’s U-21 side and even then, aged 18 barely, he was one of the best players, earning him a contract with the adults. He is definitely someone I think we should be careful for.
Mohamed Salah: Born: 15 June 1992 (age 20) – now HERE is where shit is getting pretty real. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the winner of the CAF Most Promising African Talent of the Year in 2012 CAF Awards (wiki). And boy, did he make Spuds look like absolute fools last Thursday or what? Constant attacks, great spirit, fantastic way of controlling the ball, he even managed to score the precious equalizer just 4 minutes after Spuds had taken the lead. Sure, his ball control just before the goal WAS NOT the best one but he quickly managed to take the best decision and just fire one in. Not to mention the fantastic pace he showed just before he was given the ball. I gotta say I’m pretty damn impressed. I can see Xherdan Shaqiri’s replacement in Salah. Great player. DEFINITELY someone to watch out for. PLEASE, Chelsea, for the love of God just watch out for that one.
Marco Streller: Born: 18 June 1981 (age 31) (Captain) – a fantastic striker, although unsuccessful in the Bundesliga (spent 3 seasons in VfB Stuttgart but did not impress). Since he returned to his home team Basel in 2007, he’s been one of their best and most valuable players. I will just say that he qualifies as a…wait for it…….. BEAST!!! player. With his height of 1.95 m (or 6 ft 5 in, however you prefer it), that makes him one of the most dangerous players in Basel’s team. He will sure give us a lot of headaches – again, we should definitely watch out for him. Don’t bother looking at his age – that guy can amaze you, Ibrahimovic style (Ibra is also 31 [note]).
Alexander Frei: Born: 15 July 1979 (age 33) – I really didn’t want to put one of my favorite non-Chelsea players in the ‘Substitutions’ part but he was a substitution vs. Tottenham. But enough talking, let’s start with the superlatives – we’ve all heard and watched Alex Frei in action. In Dortmund, in Basel and even before that – he’s always been a prolific goalscorer. Fantastic player, natural leader, game changer – just a few of the things that can be said about him. HOWEVER, life is crucial and Frei is almost 34 of age. And after a career started in 1987(youth)/1997(senior), it’s natural that Alexander has lost some of his qualities. One small example: there was a situation (I think in the 30 minutes after the 90) where he got the ball in a great position in the box, but just wasn’t quick enough. He did manage to get a shot but it was a weak one and Friedel saved it without any trouble. HOWEVER (once again in capital letters), Frei is a player who can give his opponents some incredible headaches. Just ask Manutd. (LOL)
Marcelo Diaz: Born: 30 December 1986 (age 26) – the so called ‘South American Xavi’ – well, he did show some great skills vs Spuds – nice ball control, he tried some shots, he gave some excellent passes. Definitely worth watching out for.
Markus Steinhofer: Born: 7 March 1986 (age 27) – unfortunately, I cannot tell you a lot about this player. I know he can perform in the defense and midfield but I really don’t know how dangerous he may turn out to be. (Sorry about that :/)
Basel is a fantastic team full of very young and motivated players. They are probably the most dangerous team in the Europa League (after us, I suppose?). A great team who CAN be defeated but can also make our lives miserable. We are pretty lucky that the first leg is in Switzerland as away games in the first legs have always been considered better. However, we must rely on ourselves, not on where we play in the first and the second leg. We must rely on confidence, we must rely on good defensive but at the same good attacking style. We have the quality needed. We have the keeper, the defenders, the midfielders and even the striker, who proves that he can be count on in Europa League. We must rely on confidence, we must rely on good defensive but at the same good attacking style. So for my last sentence I want to say – COME ON, CHELSEA!
What do you guy think? Your predictions? FC Basel?