Andrew Flint –
Basel vs Krasnodar – Thursday, September 19, 17:55 BST/18:55 CEST – St. Jakob-Park, Basel – Switzerland
It can never be a simple matter to deal with when an era of dominance is finally challenged. Grasshopper Zurich are by far the most decorated club side in Swiss history with 27 titles, but the only silverware they have won since their last title back in 2003 was a Swiss Cup 10 years later. Since that last Grasshopper title triumph, Basel have accumulated 10, including eight in a row up until 2017. In the last couple of years though, Young Boys have absolutely decimated the competition, finishing a combined 35 points clear of Basel in second across both seasons. Other than Basel’s Nigerian-born flier Noah Okafor and FC Zurich’s full-back Kevin Ruegg, the seven other most valuable players in the league according to transfermarkt.de are all Young Boys players – and that is after they sold Kevin Mbabu and Djibril Sow.
For now, though, Basel are top of the table for the first time in quite a while. An early season-defining mammoth clash against Young Boys looms this coming weekend, but for now, attentions turn to Europe. Injuries are plaguing the side though. Top goalscorer Kemal Ademi suffered a concussion in a recent Cup match, and in light of both new regulations regarding head clashes, and the club’s own experience of Ricky van Wolfswinkel suffering an aneurysm that will keep him out for the season, there was no risk of rushing him back ahead of schedule. What it does mean though is that the only options are untested youngsters to lead the line.
Swiss journalist Felix Bingeser was especially downbeat about the prospects of Basel pulling of results capable of setting a solid impression of Swiss club in Europe. “Following the exploits of FC Basel against Eindhoven, the mourning of Swiss clubs in the Champions League will be resumed,” he moaned in his column for Blick. “Basel were tactically exaggerated by brave, solid, playful but limited Austrians and stood helplessly opposite the pressing of LASK Linz. The fact that coach Marcel Koller and the team couldn’t even find the approach of a recipe and leave a completely disoriented impression is frightening.” No time like the present.
On the surface, Sergey Galitskiy is a supremely serene character. Rarely seen in public other than to watch his club, his dream of youth production, take increasingly bold steps forward, his reactions are worlds apart from his counterparts at the biggest Russian clubs. Watching them collapse against Olympiacos having pulled off the greatest result in their history to defeat Porto away from home must have torn at the heart strings. It is surely only a matter of time before Krasnodar confirm their remarkable progress and finally make the group stages of the Champions League, but that knowledge doesn’t make each agonising, tantalising failure any easier to take.
The truth is that Krasnodar are full of identity and character, fueled by some intelligent youth academy products. Development is a long-term game that requires more patience than is humanly possible. The come-down from having the highest level of football within their grasp will take no small amount of psychological maturity to allow the players to prepare suitably for the second-tier Europa League. In Murad Musaev they have not a wild explosion of emotive dramatics, but a calm intelligence. Manuel Fernandes is an exceptionally astute signing for situations like these; with his experience of playing in different countries, not to mention his extraordinary press resistance and vision, he will play a crucial role as players are rotated in and out of the starting lineup.
The fixtures offer them no respite. After Thursday’s match, they must travel to CSKA Moscow away in the league, followed by another trip – this time to face Nizhny Novgorod in the Russian Cup – by which time almost the entire squad will almost certainly have been deployed. Where they will find relief is from the solid foundations, they have already laid. Top of the league, still in all competitions, and with some key players still to come back from injury, the stage is set for Krasnodar to play out the next act of their performance. Events in Bern will go some way to determining whether it is a drama, a comedy, or an epic tale of heroism.
Basel vs Krasnodar – Players to watch
Noah Okafor #11 – Basel
The teenage Nigerian winger has made himself indispensable since breakthrough into the first team 18 months ago. By his admission, he has had to work hard to get where he is, but there is nothing laborious about his smooth movement on the pitch. A fullback’s nightmares, he runs full pelt with superb close control, making him very difficult to dispossess without giving a foul away. Bearing his age in mind, his physical frame leaves something to be desired. That, of course, is something that can be developed sensibly as his still-growing frame develops. With his mastery of the ball at his feet, all he needs is half an inch of space, and away he explodes. Sergey Petrov will have a torrid time if he is not supported by either Olsson or Kambolov.
Ari #9 – Krasnodar
The veteran Russian international will most likely lead the line away from home ahead of precocious young striker Ivan Ignatyev. Marcus Berg was given the nod in the vital qualifiers, and his leaden-footed approach made light work for opposing defences. What Ari offers, despite being the same age as the Swede, is a great deal more tenacity and pace. He is a goalscorer through and through, but simply by virtue of occupying the attentions of at least one defender he will open up space for support runners to either offer an option or take advantage of themselves. Depending on how the mood and energy of Basel is to start with, his role may vary ever so slightly. The good news is that he is more than capable of adapting his play to keep his markers guessing.
Basel vs Krasnodar – Match Stats
- Basel have history with Russia and Russia-based staff; Emil Bergstrom was a teammate of Ruslan Kambolov at Rubin Kazan, while manager Marcel Koller was at the helm as Austria beat Fabio Capello’s turgid Russia side, a game that is said to cost him his job
- Basel have lost two of their last three home games against Russian opposition
- Last season was the first time in 15 years that they had not made it through to any form of European group-stage football
- Krasnodar are making their sixth successive appearance in the Europa League – although in 2017/18 they were knocked out in the playoffs
- The Russian side have won exactly one away game in all of the Europa League group-stage campaigns
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Basel vs Krasnodar – 1-2
Basel vs Krasnodar – Possible lineups
Omlin – Widmer, Cömert, Alderete, Petretta – Xhaka, Frei – Bua, Kuzmanović, Okafor – Pululu
Manager: Marcel Koller
Safonov – Petrov, Martynovic, Spajić, Ramírez – Olsson, Kambolov, Vilhena – Wanderson, Ari, Fernandes
Manager: Murad Musaev
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.