Away games are meant to be difficult, especially in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League, but this Manchester City team are no longer playing by football’s usual rules. Here in Basel they turned a challenge into an exhibition, controlling the whole match and recording a 4-0 win that should really have been six or seven.
What was so impressive about it was that City did exactly what Guardiola promised they would try to do, imposing their game on the opposition in their home ground. This is a Swiss fortress, the national stadium, but City took control in the first half and never let go.
The noisy home crowd and the freezing temperatures made not the slightest bit of a difference. Nor did a competitive opponent who beat Manchester United here back in November. This was, for want of a better phrase, typical City, their 16th away win of a remarkable season. Anyone who saw them win 4-0 at Feyenoord, 6-0 at Watford or 4-0 at Swansea City – or any number of narrower wins – will have recognised it instantly.
This effectively puts City into the quarter-finals and kills the return leg in Manchester on 7 March. They got Leroy Sane and David Silva back on the pitch too, and the games ahead of them look more conquerable than ever.
It feels strange, looking back, but Basel did cause City some problems in an opening spell that suggested this might even be an open back-and-forth. With City defending as high up as they do there was space in behind. Dimitri Oberlin raced onto one through ball, beat Ederson to it, but skewed his finish. The next time Oberlin was through, Nicolas Otamendi flattened him in the box but went unpunished.
De Bruyne and Bernardo linked well (Bongarts/Getty Images)
But there is no other team like City when it comes to turning it on and ripping a game away from the opposition before they even realise what has happened. That is what happened here, with three goals in a 10-minute spell that ended the whole contest.
First Basel conceded a sloppy corner which De Bruyne whipped in from the left. Ilkay Gundogan had already had one header saved but Basel did not switch on. He darted away from Fabian Frei at the near post and angled his header into the roof of the net.
Bernardo impressed as he opened the scoring (AFP/Getty Images)
When City play like this nothing they do looks too complex. Basel were sat deep in a 5-4-1 but even then City could slice their way through with every attack. The patterns are now so ingrained, and the execution so precise, that every attack gets through. So it was when Raheem Sterling ran down the left, released by De Bruyne, and crossed to the far post. There was Bernardo Silva, with the time and poise to take the ball down and volley it back past Tomas Vaclik, dipping through the Basel keeper and in.
Two away goals in five minutes is as dispiriting as it gets, and despite the home support the Basel’s players’ heads dropped. The third came far too easily. Fernandinho stormed through the middle, and when he was eventually tackled by Leo Lacroix the ball fell to Sergio Aguero. 25 yards out, he still had enough time to pick his spot in the bottom corner, as Marek Suchy just lazily turned his back. Even at 3-0 City kept coming, and their best move of the half almost brought them a fourth, De Bruyne sweeping just over from Delph’s cross from the left. Still, 0-3 away from home was not a bad start.
City are all but in the quarter-finals (Bongarts/Getty Images)
And when you have your opponent pinned like this, why would you let up? City just continued to play the same way in the second half, pressing, passing, attacking, trying to drag the game as far away from Basel as they possibly could. And it worked, and nine minutes after the restart they had their fourth. Aguero drove forward and found Gundogan on the edge of the box. He controlled the ball with his first touch, took it away from Fabian Frei with his second then curled it into the far top corner of the net with his third.
With a lead that big, City could start to think about Wigan Athletic on Monday, the Carabao Cup final, and everything after that. So Raheem Sterling came off for Leroy Sane, just 16 days after what was feared to be a serious ankle injury. Then De Bruyne got well-earned rest, replaced by David Silva.
City should have scored more, and Gunodgan should have had a hat-trick. Guardiola is a perfectionist and will not be delighted, but he should be happy enough.