I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, from AVB all the way down to AANP. Blinking heck, Basel were as slick as any opponent we have played all season, their attacking interplay as good as the Chelski front three who six-yard-passed us to oblivion back in the early autumn. They may masquerade as a Swiss club side, but Basel played like a team of Bond villains – laughing in our faces as they pretty effortlessly repelled most of our attacks, and then slicing us open at will with interplay so fizzy our heroes could barely see them, let alone keep pace with them. Presumably up in the posh boxes their bald chairman stroked a cat and laughed rather evilly as it unfolded.
In the first half hour our mob seemed to be going about business in a fairly honourable way – ‘sharp technique’ and ‘good ball retention’ amongst the boxes being dutifully ticked off, with Messrs Holtby, Parker and Dembele in particular earning their little gold stars. All of which would please the Ofsted inspectors, but the truth that dare not be mentioned was that we were hardly blowing up anybody’s skirts, with barely a well-crafted goalscoring opportunity on the horizon.
And frankly it went downhill from there. Half the team filled the full-back positions at one point or another, and were duly skinned alive, and Gallas looked suspiciously like a man closing his eyes and guessing, until he just gave up and wandered down the tunnel early.
In fairness, the two-goal salvo was a worthy effort, the goals being forced in through sheer willpower as much as any particular finesse, and our heroes deserve credit for not folding as lilywhite teams of yore have regularly done. But it did seem, particularly in that final 30 minutes once Holtby’s energy was removed, that we were on the end of a rather peculiar 2-2 hammering.
On top of which both Lennon and Bale made unscheduled exits, prompting a flurry of understandable pessimism to fill the North London air. (Although on a medical note, I would point out that many a time and oft has AANP rolled over one ankle or t’other in the manner of Master Bale last night – and although there typically tends to follow 24 hours of stiff upper lip-inducing pain, luridly coloured and over-sized ankle swelling, several hours of tedium in Chase Farm A&E and several futile attempts to engage the young nurses in playful conversation, I actually tend to be back up and peddling my limited footballing wares again within a week. The moral of the story is slap some ice on it, give him an ankle strap and he ought to be back for the Man City game right as rain.) (Unless he’s actually torn his ligaments to kingdom come, or broken the thing, in which case we are all in a rather a bothersome fix.)
Pardon the digression. A final word or forty-two on the Basel episode of last night – it would be jolly impressive if our opponents play quite as well again in the second leg, but a testing evening undoubtedly awaits. Our heroes might be advised simply to forget the notion of away goals and just concentrate on outscoring them.