Basel, Switzerland (AP) — Manchester City sent out another statement to the rest of Europe by thrashing Basel 4-0 away in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday, with Ilkay Gundogan scoring two of the goals.
The Premier League’s runaway leaders scored three times between the 14th and 23 minutes — through Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero — before Gundogan added a fourth goal from long range in the 53rd minute.
City, who enjoyed 74 percent possession, scored four goals away from home for the third time in this season’s Champions League and have only lost two games in all competitions, one of them against Shakhtar Donetsk when qualification for the last 16 was already guaranteed.
This is the best chance City have had to win Europe’s biggest prize, especially with one of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain sure to be eliminated this round.
City didn’t even have to be at their best on a bobbly pitch and near-freezing conditions to see off the Swiss champions, whose striker Dimitri Oberlin wasted chances either side of the visitors’ flurry of goals. With his team still trying to win a quadruple of trophies, Guardiola had the luxury of substituting Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling around the hour mark for fit-again pair David Silva and Leroy Sane.
The return match is on March 7, when Juventus and Tottenham will also play their second leg after drawing 2-2 in Turin on Tuesday.
St. Jakob-Park hasn’t been a happy ground for English teams, with Liverpool, Chelsea and — in this season’s group stage — Manchester United all losing at Basel’s atmospheric home in recent seasons in the Champions League.
Basel had their moments against City, especially early on when the visitors looked susceptible to a long ball behind center backs Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. Oberlin could also have earned a penalty, after tumbling under a challenge from Otamendi.
“After 10 minutes, we could have been 2-0 down,” Guardiola said. “After 20 minutes, we were 3-0 in the lead. We were clinical today.”
It was a stroll for City from the moment Gundogan, playing in front of Germany coach Joachim Loew, met a corner by De Bruyne with a header that flew in at the near post. It was De Bruyne’s 19th assist of a stunning season.
Four minutes later, Sterling crossed from the left, Silva chested the ball down and sent a dipping volley beyond the goalkeeper, who could only get his fingertips to the ball.
Aguero came into the match with 13 goals from 10 games in 2018 — four coming in one half against Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday — and naturally he got involved in the scoring.
Fernandinho was tackled 30 meters out but the ball fell to Aguero, who took one touch and shot low into the corner for his 198th goal for City.
Gundogan saved the best goal for last and it was another long-ranger that curled into the top corner from 25 meters.
That margin of victory gives Guardiola the option to rest key players for the second leg at Etihad Stadium, by which time City might have won the English League Cup — they play Arsenal in the final on Feb. 25 — extended their 16-point lead in the Premier League, and advanced to the FA Cup quarterfinals.
“If we play like we did today and in the past few weeks,” Gundogan said, “we will be successful, for sure.”