The Sports Rabbi had a chance to have a Q & A with Swiss Football about FC Basel as they face off against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League Playoff Round! You can check out Swiss Football on Twitter @FootballSwiss and on the web!
1- What changes have Basel gone through over the past 2 years since they last played Maccabi and with both Yakin and Sousa leaving?
Quite a lot has changed over the space of two seasons really but as they say, the more things change, they stay the same. Basel remain dominant and that has never really looked to change over the past six years, but it is a very different Basel side than the one that Maccabi lined up against in both the Champions League and Europa League in the 13/14 season.
Of the side that lined up in the first leg of the UCL qualifier in July 2013, only four remain at the club (Elneny, Degen, Ajeti, Safari) and I’d hazard a guess that only Elneny and Safari will start out of those four on Wednesday.
Even on the bench, only back-up goalkeeper Vailati and Xhaka remain at Basel with Xhaka now a constant in the first team.
Not much changed as you can expect between the UCL game and UEL match. Delgado played in the 0-0 draw in Tel Aviv as did Suchy and both remain at the club now and are big features of the team but the likes of Streller and Stocker (who scored the decisive goals in the second leg) all left the club.
That is the way it is with Basel, most players eventually leave for pastures new but Basel have a tendency to rebuild with players of a similar quality or better. This season for example, they lost their manager aswell as key players such as Fabian Schar and Fabian Frei but have brought in guys like Bjarnason and Janko who have performed very well thus far.
The season before was worse with long serving players such as Yann Sommer and Valentin Stocker leaving aswell as Murat Yakin who had guided the club to the semi-final but again, with a new manager and some new players, the team was able to comfortably retain the league title and reach the last sixteen of the UCL.
I think the biggest worry over the two seasons were that the right manager had to come in to lead the club as the team was still strong enough. Good signings were made and in Paolo Sousa and Urs Fischer (so far), there were two managers capable of continuing success. So while much has changed in personnel, I still think Maccabi will come up against a very strong Basel side and it will be as tough a game as it was two years ago.
2- Who are some of the key players for Basel? Who should Maccabi fans watch out for?
One man that didn’t feature at all during the games two years ago was Breel Embolo. He is only eighteen and already a first-team regular for Basel and a Swiss international. That indicates that his future is bright. He still has lots of potential to unlock but right now he is a great asset to Basel and will almost certainly, like others before, leave for a big money move to another part of Europe but he is definitely a goal threat.
Marc Janko is another that I personally really like. I’m not sure if he will start on Wednesday but he has started in fine goal scoring form and if he plays, or even comes on, he can cause plenty of problems up top for Maccabi.
Shkelzen Gashi has been the top scorer in Switzerland for the past two seasons and while he’s not really done it on the European stage, he definitely knows the way to goal.
I also really like Bikir Bjarnason from Iceland. He is also a new signing that has started well and looks really creative.
Matias Delgado brings a lot of experience to the side too. He featured in one of the games against Maccabi and is good for a goal from midfield and can, on his day, hit a great free kick. He may not start on Wednesday but he may feature at some point.
Most of my choices are more attacking players that I feel could hurt Maccabi. Defensively, it is still a relatively new partnership in Hoegh and Suchy but they came through their ties with Lech Poznan having conceded only one goal.
3- What does new coach Urs Fischer bring to the club?
To be totally honest, I’m still finding that out. As a spectactor on the Swiss league, I was very impressed with his work at FC Thun last season but was still surprised when he was given the nod at Basel and now he is at the club, everything is magnified.
He only made his name with Thun, before that his only job was FC Zurich and he was sacked from there after a poor finish in the league but at Thun, he led them to fourth in the league and the UEFA Europa League, a competition that he had taken them into the Group Stages in, a couple of season’s previous.
But so far, he is doing very well at Basel. I’m enjoying watching the club play, the attacking football is good and the start to the season is the best for some time. 22 goals in the first eight games is not bad at all and so far he is proving himself to be up to the job.
These qualifiers are a big test for him though and having successfully eased past Lech Poznan, the games against Maccabi will be interesting.
4- Will he be able to take Basel to the heights that Sousa did?
It is hard to say. I definitely think he will win the league title. I thought that before the start of the season and even more so now. I just think with the strength of Basel’s squad and the lack of consistency elsewhere in the league, there is no challenge. Grasshoppers have surprised me with their start but I would expect them to fall away as the season progresses.
The league title is a must. As for everything else, its been a little while since Basel lifted the Swiss Cup and that is something that Sousa didn’t many to do last season. I was never particularly convinced with Sousa as a manager but he did take the club to the last sixteen of the Champions League and for that, he deserves credit.
I guess to emulate Sousa then Fischer would have to achieve the same but then everyone knows how difficult it is to reach the last sixteen and you need to hope for a favourable draw in the group too.
A league and cup double would probably represent success this season with anything else a bonus. Reaching the Champions League is a must and it’d be hugely disappointing if he didn’t manage to get the team there. He has never really been tested at this level so time will tell how he does.
With the start he has made though, I’m optimistic about his chances of achieving more than Sousa did. It helps that I fully expect Fischer to remain at Basel for more than one season.
5- What do you know about Maccabi?
I’m a keen follower of football from most parts of the world and while I can’t say I’ve watched a Maccabi game since the Europa League second leg, I’m familiar with how they have been doing recently. I know they have been dominant and in Zahavi, they have a very good player but I’d struggle to name any players other than him.
I don’t always keep up to date with their results but I’m well aware that they will provide a big challenge over these two legs, although I was surprised to see them struggle (in the first leg anyway against Hibernians) but I was also impressed that they saw off Plzen away from home after the first leg defeat.
It is definitely a side that I’m sure wants to get back to the UCL proper and it should make for an exciting clash.