The two games on Tuesday have Basel on an impossible mission against Manchester City, whereas Juventus squares off with Tottenham in one of the three most intriguing matchups of the round. So, which players could make an impact in these contests?
– If you had any doubt about who has been the most efficient striker in European football for the past two seasons, don’t. It’s Harry Kane. He broke Alan Shearer’s record for most goals (37) in an English Premier League calendar year in 2017. Simultaneously, he beat Messi (54) to the title of Europe’s best scorer with 56 goals. After claiming England’s Golden Boot in the previous two seasons, Kane is at it again, leading all scorers in England’s top flight with 23. The matchup against Juventus’ defensive wall will be a true challenge, as well as one of the most fascinating stories of the first round. If Tottenham’s going to have any chance of progressing, Kane will have to win that battle.
– Aguero has been one of the most prolific strikers in Europe during the last few years. Whether it’s been Mancini, Pellegrini or Guardiola at the helm, the Argentinian has always been able to find the net. He’s the only one who has been able to keep up with Kane, and if it weren’t for his constant injuries, he could’ve even beaten the England international to the top. He’s also one of the rare forwards who has been faithful to his club for an extended time. Gabriel Jesus’ presence made it a complicated situation in Manchester, as Guardiola often rotated the strikers. However, after Jesus’ injury, Aguero is the everyday starter, and the status has raised his confidence. He’s now back to his old self, having scored in three of City’s last four games, including a hat-trick versus Newcastle and 4 goals this weekend against Leicester. Basel, good luck!
– With Paulo Dybala’s status up in the air, most will see Gonzalo Higuain as Juventus’ main threat. He is, yet there’s another player who has the uncanny ability to come up clutch when it matters most – “Super Mario” Mandzukic. The Croat has only 4 goals behind his name in Seria A, and has been in and out of the starting lineup throughout the season. That doesn’t mean he’s in bad form, or that he has forgotten how to play football. Just the opposite. He has sacrificed his goal-scoring greediness for the good of the club. He is a winger now, and plays more of a supporting role, meaning he runs, passes and helps the defense more than he shoots. With all eyes on Higuain and possibly Dybala, Mandzukic could be the one who makes the difference tonight.
– With Renato Steffen leaving for Wolfsburg in January, a spot in Basel’s starting lineup opened up. With only two games played after the winter break in the Swiss Super League, it’s unclear who’ll take over Steffen’s place in the starting lineup. The 20-year-old Dimitri Oberlin would be my favorite. On loan from Red Bull Salzburg, the young Swiss is fast, strong and a good dribbler. He has already been linked to Newcastle and will look forward to show what he’s got against England’s best. After scoring a goal in Basel’s last encounter, he should be in the starting lineup on Tuesday.