The Herald (South Africa)

City on verge of quarters


THERE is still more to come from the raiding Manchester City after the perfect 4-0 rout of Basel left them on the verge of Europe’s elite Champions League quarterfin­als, Ilkay Gundogan said.

The runaway English Premier League leaders destroyed Basel’s morale in Switzerlan­d with a three-goal burst after just 23 minutes of the first leg last-16 mismatch.

City’s first three goals came in a devastatin­g nine-minute spell – thanks to a header from Gundogan, a Bernardo Silva volley and a long-range Sergio Aguero strike.

It was whiz Aguero’s 14th goal in 11 games this year.

Gundogan, 27, added the fourth for City after the break and was only denied a hattrick by the dogged determinat­ion of Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.

The tie looks all but settled ahead of the return leg at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, on March 7.

Gundogan said City could do even better – and he threw down the gauntlet to their Champions League rivals.

“The result was maybe perfect, but there are still plenty of things to improve,” he said.

The German singled out City’s Belgian playmaker Kevin de Bruyne for his part in his opening goal.

“I had an opponent on my back, so it was not really easy to head it, but the timing was perfect – and the ball was simply perfect from Kevin,” Gundogan said.

Manager Pep Guardiola’s City starved Basel of the ball, enjoying 69% possession. “To win 4-0 away in the last 16 is an amazing result, we are almost in the quarterfin­als, but I am not saying we are already there, out of respect for Basel,” Guardiola said.

“We defended well and we were clinical – we had four chances and took them all.

“If we get to the quarterfin­als – that is already better than last season – and that is the first step for us.”

The Spaniard heaped praise on Gundogan and his midfield teammates, including David Silva, who returned off the bench after injury.

“Ilkay is a guy with special quality, he is an amazing midfield player who has a sense for goal,” Guardiola said.

“He was out for six or seven months last season – and we missed him – he is an outstandin­g player who does not feel the pressure.

“With De Bruyne and David Silva, we have a fantastic midfield trio.”

It was City’s 34th win in all competitio­ns this season – one more than they managed in the whole of 2016-17.

City captain Vincent Kompany made his first Champions League appearance this season after a calf injury.

The burly Belgian urged his team to give themselves a rousing victory margin in the second leg at home.

Guardiola said the return of Silva and young Leroy Sane, who both came on in the second half, had boosted City’s chances in the coming weeks.

They play Wigan away on Saturday, face Arsenal in back-to-back matches, starting with the League Cup final on February 25, then host Chelsea on March 4.

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