Basel are ready to write history in Switzerland, as they aim to become the first team to win the national title for the fifth time in a row. Recent years have been extremely positive for the Swiss giants, with a team that have enjoyed a real impact in European football, reaching the Champions League Round of 16 (after they knocked out Manchester United) in the 2011/12 season, and the Europa League semi-finals one year later.
The St. Jakob Park outfit have been able to keep their performances high despite a number of departures, year after year, losing jewels to bigger leagues. In 2012 Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka left for the Bundesliga, while this summer the club waved goodbye to talented central defender Aleksandar Dragovic, who transferred to Dynamo Kyiv. However, an extremely productive youth system and a good scouting network (Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah and Chilean defensive midfielder Marcelo Diaz are two players to watch) have always filled the holes left in the first team by departures.
Basel have not an impressive start to this season though, with only two wins (against newly-promoted Aarau and Lausanne) in five games. Murat Yakin’s men are still searching for consistency that lasts 90 minutes. In the Champions League third qualifying round Basel drew 3-3 against Maccabi Tel-Aviv after they led 3-0; in the Swiss Cup they defeated amateurs Old Boys only in extra-time, while in the Super League, Yakin’s side suffered a painful home defeat against fierce rivals Zurich despite dominating the game.
Apart from Basel however, in recent years none of the clubs (Young Boys, Luzern, Grasshppers) crowned “winter champions” have managed to win the league. Despite the Swiss giants not being at their best yet, they should never be underestimated.
Bringing Back The Golden Years
Young Boys are looking to collect their first title since 1986. They went close three years ago under coach Vlado Petkovic, but after the Berne-based side dominated the league until the final two games, Basel snatched the title from their grasp at the death. Since then, Young Boys have fallen back into mediocrity, as three coaches sacked (Petkovic, Christian Gross and Martin Rueda) in the last three seasons has shown.
To bring backs the glory days, Young Boys chose Uli Forte, recently voted best Swiss coach in the 2012/13 season – and, according to a Swiss women’s magazine, even the sexiest. Forte did a superb job with Grasshoppers, turning his side from relegation candidates to serious title contenders within 12 months. Despite a lack of money, the Zurich-based team qualified for the Champions League for the first time in a decade after finishing second in the league. Moreover, they ended a ten-year trophy drought defeating Basel in the Swiss Cup final.
Under Forte, Young Boys have started their 2013/14 campaign in fine fashion, with five wins in five games and 15 goals scored, before an unexpected home defeat against Grasshopper. The arrival of veteran Steve von Bergen has given consistency to the defensive pack, while up front strikers Samuel Afum, Gonzalo Zarate, Alexander Gerndt and the revelation Yuya Kubo (three goals in five games for the 19-year old Japanese talent) has given Forte many options.
Basel have played three games in seven days, while Young Boys turned out in just one. Forte’s men are in top form and in high spirits (despite their home defeat), leaving all the pressure on the reigning champions, who are six points behind the visitors. Basel however are well-known for their die-hard mentality, and on paper the quality of their team is not worse than the Berne side’s. This will be a close contest and is probably heading towards a spectacular draw.