Aymeric Laporte steadies ship with 8/10 showing for sluggish Man City
With the tie done and dusted within half an hour in the first Champions League leg against Basel, Manchester City's second string sleep-walked through a second leg Wednesday that rarely staggered past walking speed. When you remove six regulars, the difference can be startling.
With nobody on City capable of injecting speed into a pedestrian midfield, Basel -- a side that has lost four of five matches in Switzerland since the restart -- managed the unlikely feat of becoming the first visiting side to win at the Etihad since December 2016, taking a 2-1 victory as small consolation for losing the aggregate 5-2.
Rest and recuperation was the name of the game. Advancing to the last eight of the Champions League without the help of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Ederson, Kyle Walker, Fernandinho Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany would have been unthinkable six months ago. In producing 978 passes, City recorded the highest total since 2003 in this tournament, just days after having the most in a Premier League game (902) in the same time frame.
Extremely low-tempo showing needed more from an unbalanced-looking midfield of Yaya Toure, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden. With the latter inexperienced and physically at a disadvantage and the former running out of steam after a magnificent career, the gaze fell on Gundogan as a possible catalyst. Nothing came of that.
Manager Rating out of 10
8 - Pep Guardiola has managed City through two wins over Arsenal and a walking-pace victory over Chelsea within seven days. City's first trophy is on the sideboard, while a second is within touching distance. This game was an exercise in saving absent legs and giving fringe players a run out.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Claudio Bravo, 6 -- Comfortable save from a left-flank shot from Blas Riveros did not prepare him for being beaten by Mohamed Elyounoussi in the first half and Michael Lang in the second.
DF Danilo, 6 -- Opened with a hospital pass inside to Oleksandr Zinchenko and left a space between himself and the Ukrainian as wide as the ship canal for the first goal. Missed his tackle on the same player later on when last man, which could have resulted in another goal.
DF John Stones, 6 -- Still not anywhere close to the level he had reached before his injury. Jittery on the ball and at times incapable of passing accurately across even the shortest of distances.
DF Aymeric Laporte, 8 -- City's best performer at the back. Secure and tidy in his tackling and positioning, alert in his covering and strong and quick into the tackle. Often the deepest player at the back, he had more and more tidying to do as the game progressed.
DF Oleksandr Zinchenko, 5 -- Too many slack balls for comfort and a lack of understanding of the defensive spaces around him. Appeared going forward in the inside left channel on various occasions, but it was his appearances in the left-back slot that gave the most cause for concern.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 5 -- No spark from the German, who missed two gilt-edged chances to put City in a clear lead. Disappointing lack of urgency and direction.
MF Bernardo Silva, 7 -- Started excellently and created plenty of confusion in the Basel defence in a promising first 20 minutes. Laid on the opener for Gabriel Jesus with a slide rule pass across the back of the defence. Was sadly more or less anonymous in the second half as he seemed to run out of energy.
MF Phil Foden, 7 -- Some promising moments from the youngster -- including a sublime touch to send Leroy Sane away in the build-up to the opening goal -- but was generally well marshalled by a burly Basel defence. Delightful weight on passes inside the full-back, good direct running but found himself in Sane's way a couple of times.
MF Leroy Sane, 8 -- Created early havoc and was the only player to maintain some sort of urgency as Basel got in front. It was his swerving run from left to right that brought Silva into possession to set up the first goal. Still dragging three defenders wherever he went right at the end of the match.
MF Yaya Toure, 6 -- Plenty of early possession as City dominated, but ill-suited to chasing a result, never mind chasing an opponent. Followed his man at a respectable distance towards the corner flag and had to watch as the ball was then passed inside him for Lang to net the winner.
FW Gabriel Jesus, 6 -- First appearance since Dec. 31 and had the easiest goal possible to boost his confidence, touching in at the back post after great work by Foden, Sane and Bernardo. Booked for a wildly mistimed lunge on Lang.
MF, Brahim Diaz, 7 -- Came on for Gundogan in the 65th minute and produced pace and enthusiasm. Unlucky not to score with powerful low effort to the near post.
DF, Tosin Adarabioyo, NR -- Came on for Foden after 87 minutes.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.