Manchester City Will Never Have a Better chance of Champions League Glory - they have Come of age in Europe
Ruthless City demolished Basel on Tuesday night to make the return leg a formality and they will fear nobody in the competition
This is why Manchester City have been installed as favourites to win the Champions League.
Pep Guardiola might not like to admit it, but with City in this kind of irresistible form, they will never have a better chance of landing a first European Cup.
Tougher tests and more dangerous opponents lie ahead in the tournament, but the ruthless manner in which City demolished Basel showed Guardiola’s team have come of age in Europe.
They have made the return leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 7 a formality, the margin of victory here allowing Blues boss Guardiola to rotate his squad and give key players vital rest ahead of the sterner challenges in the weeks and months ahead.
An unassailable 16-point lead at the summit of the Premier League means he can focus his attention on the Champions League, which has assumed such importance for City as they look to win it and take their place alongside Europe’s elite clubs.
Much will depend on who they draw in the quarter-finals, but with Guardiola’s side in such formidable form, they will surely fear no-one. And, having finally beaten Barcelona last season, they have proved to themselves they can take on the very best in Europe and win.
City arrived at St Jakob-Park looking to avoid the fate that had befallen Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United twice in losing to Basel in the Champions League. But any notion of City going the same way as their flaky Premier League colleagues was swiftly and brutally crushed.
Kompany’s previous last appearance in the Champions League came in the semi-final, second-leg 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid, in which the City defender lasted 10 minutes before injury struck.
But here Guardiola favoured the experience of Kompany over the potential of £57million new signing Aymeric Laporte.
The first chance of the game was conjured by City, Bernardo Silva crossing for Ilkay Gundogan, whose goalbound header was tipped over the bar by Basel keeper Tomas Vaclik.
Predictably, City dominated possession from the start, pegging Basel back in their own half, with the hosts forced to adopt a policy of containment as the visitors tested them defensively.
Basel were denied what looked a legitimate penalty shout in the 11th minute when Dimitri Oberlin looked to have been deliberately body-checked by Nicolas Otamendi.
But referee Jonas Eriksson saw no transgression and Basel found themselves a goal down three minutes later, Gundogan getting ahead of Fabian Frei to head in a Kevin De Bruyne corner at the near post.
City doubled their lead four minutes later, Raheem Sterling’s cross glancing off the head of Leo Lacroix and falling to Silva, who chested the ball down before producing an exquisite volley beyond the despairing reach of Vaclik.
Basel were still reeling from that double blow when Sergio Aguero decided to get in on the act, seizing on a loose ball to plunder his 198th City career goal, and 29th of the season, with an unstoppable 25-yard shot low into the corner.
City went into the break 3-0 up, with their stat of 74 per cent possession in the first-half confirming their complete dominance. Basel threatened briefly five minutes after the restart, Mohamed Elyounoussi forcing a fine save at full-stretch from Ederson with a angled effort – but that was as difficult as it got for the visitors.
Gundogan duly claimed his second of the night in the 53rd minute, collecting the ball from Aguero and sending Frei the wrong way to create enough space to curl a majestic shot past the hapless Vaclik.
The Basel keeper denied Germany star Gundogan his hat-trick with a close-range save in the 74th minute – one of the few things he got right on a wretched night.
Ederson had to be alert to stop an Oberlin free-kick but City saw out the game comfortably, taking another significant step towards the holy grail of Champions League glory.