Mohamed Salah, Granit Xhaka, Xherdah Shaqiri, Mohamed Elneny, Yann Sommer, Breel Embolo; FC Basel’s record of nurturing young talents that go on to excel in major European Leagues can’t be faulted.
All but one of those finished in the top half of their respective top flights last season, and Liverpool’s Salah has established himself as one of the continent’s most irresistible goal threats since joining the Anfield ranks from Roma last summer.
Accordingly, while the Swiss outfit’s Champions League clash with Manchester City may have lacked genuine significance after Pep Guardiola’s side netted five away goals in the first leg, it was nonetheless an important occasion for those eager to keep abreast of the exciting young players starting to emerge on the fringes of European football.
And once again, as is nearly always the case when FC Basel meet an English side in European competition, a promising young player stood out as the visitors took advantage of complacency to seal a surprise 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.
Providing the sharpest and most potent prong in breakaway attacks that made a mockery of City’s 78% possession was 23-year-old Mohamed Elyounoussi. The Norwegian international, Moroccan born, is enjoying another fantastic season after netting ten times during his first term at St. Jacob-Park, this time around matching netting prowess with creative instincts to bag as many assists as last season already, 13, alongside seven goals.
Two of those strikes and two of those set-ups have come in the Champions League, including one apiece on Wednesday night against the most dominant team in England this season.
As Basel responded to City’s opening goal and early pressure with a tenacious run down their right flank, it was Elyounoussi who found a pocket of space by allowing City’s centre-backs to retreat an extra yard too far before powerfully converting a cross from another promising Basel youngster – 20-year-old Blas Riveros.
Elyounoussi then turned provider as Basel completed a comeback in the second half. Michael Lang’s rifled finish at the near post was something to behold, but it owed much to Elyounoussi’s vision, mobility and hard work – and some halfhearted defending from Yaya Toure.
The attacking midfielder carried the ball from left attacking midfield across the Ivorian’s patch all the way to the right wing, protecting it well and slaloming between two City defenders before putting a cute reverse pass straight into Lang’s path.
The idea of Elyounoussi moving to the Premier League has already been in the consciousness of the press for some time, far preceding Wednesday’s performance.
He was once mooted as Leicester City’s replacement for Riyad Mahrez following their title-winning season, and Blick reported in December that a Southampton scout had ran the rule over the attacker during a 4-1 win over Lausanne – while citing ten unnamed Premier League clubs as a potential rivals for his signature. Their understanding is that he’ll leave the Swiss champions this summer.
Southampton too, do need that extra dose of creativity in their midfield. Sofiane Boufal has struggled to produce his best since arriving from Lille, Nathan Redmond already seems to have one foot out of the exit door and Dusan Tadic’s once ever-dependable spark has glowed noticeably dimmer this season. For all the concern over how a lack of dependable firepower may result in their relegation, consistently supplying the centre-forwards with the right quality has been a problem for much of the campaign too.
Valued at just £6.75million by Transfermarkt and demonstrating a level of form in Europe’s ultimate competition that suggests a readiness to test himself in a more competitive league, Elyounoussi could prove an incredibly shrewd signing for Southampton, the kind of acquisition that has been at the heart of their transfer model in the Premier League – a young player with big potential and an eagerness to prove himself in a major European top flight.
So, Southampton fans, would you back a summer swoop for Elyounoussi? Let us know by voting below…