Basel vs CSKA Moscow Tuesday, October 31, 19:45 GMT/20:45 CET St. Jakob-Park – Basel, Switzerland
Basel began this European campaign roundly expected to be battling it out at the bottom of Group A with CSKA Moscow for a Europa League escape route, but they stand on the edge of matchday four needing a win to all but guarantee passage to the knockout stages with two games to spare. All they need to progress, other than a victory over their Russian opponents, is for Manchester United to avoid defeat at home to Benfica. Given the Red Devils’ 100% record so far in the competition, the conditions look set for an evening of Swiss delight.
In the return match in the Russian capital, Basel were able to pick off their win efficiently by exploiting the incredibly vulnerable backline in front of them with lightning pace and coolness under pressure. Futbolgrad’s Player to Watch Dmitri Oberlin came off the bench as predicted to race clear and score the second goal having already hit the post, and may be given a more significant role to play. Given that Basel have continued their strong form domestically – two wins and a draw to move up to second and Champions League qualification places since their 2-0 win in Moscow – there are grounds to use his tremendous pace to trouble CSKA early on and put the tie to bed.
CSKA Moscow’s immense performance on matchday one to stun Benfica in the Estadio da Luz seems a world away as their hopes hang by the slenderest of threads. Now, their only hope of going through to the knockout stages is realistic with a win in Switzerland, and the omens don’t look overly positive. A flat performance to lose away to Arsenal Tula extended their poor run of just one win in their last seven matches in all competitions, while they have scored just once in their last four away matches.
One potential positive though is the possible return of Alan Dzagoev. The creative midfielder has had a string of injuries over the last 18 months, and his absence has stifled the creativity of the Armymen. Even if he was declared fit, realistically he would be considerably off the pace and would be unlikely to play a significant part in the tie. With a trip to league leaders and local rivals Lokomotiv Moscow followed by the mammoth journey across five time zones to the border with North Korea to face SKA Khabarovsk after this midweek trip, it will be a gamble if Viktor Goncharenko throws Dzagoev into action.
A lot depends on what Goncharenko’s ambitions are. If he is settling for Europa League, he may well sacrifice the group stage points against Basel knowing that avoiding defeat against Benfica in the final matchday at home will most likely see them claim third place. Even if CSKA were to somehow scrape through to the next stage of the Champions League itself, their chances of progressing to any meaningful round after that are infinitesimal anyway. If however he is set on achieving that aim, he cannot afford to sit back and be conservative in Basel.
Basel vs CSKA Moscow – Players to Watch
Mohamed Elyounoussi #24 – Basel
The Moroccan-born Norwegian international playmaker is central to Basel’s attacking output having supplied seven goals in the Swiss Super League in just 11 matches so far this season. Usually deployed as they point linking midfield and attack, his intelligence on the ball will be required to prise open what is likely to be a packed central area. Although he hasn’t scored or assisted in the three group-stage matches so far this campaign, Elyounoussi’s effect is much more complete than statistical achievements.
Konstantin Kuchaev #89 – CSKA Moscow
After his slightly harsh sending off at the weekend, the 19-year-old youth team product – who scored a consolation against Manchester United in the 4-1 humbling in Moscow – is highly likely to be handed a central role, given his enforced absence from the next domestic fixture. Goncharenko has shown his tendency to trust his up and coming star with four consecutive starts in the league, and with good reason. His intelligence for a player of such slender experience and age is a real asset to CSKA, and if Basel are to be troubled, Kuchaev offers something unique for the Russians.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Basel vs CSKA Moscow: 2-0
Basel vs CSKA Moscow – Match Stats
- Basel have scored in 11 of their last 12 home games in the Champions League, but have conceded nine in their last five
- Their 5-0 thrashing of former European champions Benfica, last time out at home, was their biggest Champions League win this millennium
- CSKA have won their previous two games in this competition in Switzerland
- The Armymen have won their last three Champions League away matches
Basel vs CSKA Moscow – Possible Lineups
Vaclík – Lang, Suchy, Akanji, Petretta – Zuffi, Xhaka – Oberlin, Elyounoussi, Steffen – Ajeti
Manager: Raphael Wicky
Akinfeev – A. Berezutskiy, Vasin, V. Berezutskiy – Fernandes, Wernbloom, Golovin, Natkho, Schennikov – Kuchaev, Vitinho
Managers: Viktor Goncharenko
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.