It is the second week since the conclusion of the winter break and Swiss football is warming up once again as we approach the last few months of the season. For the first time in many seasons, we have a title race. Young Boys are making a real nuisance of themselves and Basel are wholly uncomfortable with this unusual scenario. They trail the club from the capital by five points after a shock home defeat to Lugano and looked to get back on track on Saturday with their trip to Thun with YB looking to negotiate a potential banana skin at the Pontaise vs. Lausanne.
Elsewhere, the race for Europe is anyone’s guess with any of the teams all the way down to ninth in with a chance. Fourth-place Lugano are only four points clear of ninth-placed Thun, so it is very tight across the board. As for bottom club Sion, they travelled to Lugano hoping to avoid being cut adrift.
Lugano 1-0 Sion
Stade de Cornaredo
Saturday, February 10th
Sion are in crisis. A club that changes their managers like one changes their toothbrush. Christian Constantin’s chickens seem to be coming to the Tourbillon to roost. His decisions are often derided and his trigger-happy approach to all things Sion often hurt the club more than most. Despite this, Sion have generally been successful. They have had successful European campaigns, a run of cup final wins and victories (13 finals, 13 wins until 2017’s loss to Basel) but now they find themselves in a real relegation battle and risk losing their Super League status.
Their trip to Lugano was always going to be a tricky affair and it became much harder early in the game as Lugano took the lead on the 14th minute. Gerndt, the hero of the hour vs. Basel, had spurned a good chance just two minutes earlier but made no mistake with his next opportunity. Ndoye was caught in possession for the visitors and the pass to the Swede allowed him a rifled shot into the net from outside of the box to put Lugano ahead.
A free-kick on 36th minute allowed Sion their first sniff at goal but the effort from Lenjani was a comfortable enough save for da Costa. The hosts could’ve doubled the lead just four minutes later after a scramble in the box that ended with a swivel from Sabbatini and a shot at goal that was saved by the legs of Fickentscher.
Lugano continued their pursuit of their second in the second half. Minute 49 saw another encouraging run from Gerndt and from the wing he unleashed a shot that had the goalkeeper beaten and clipped the bar. A feat that he would repeat on 54 minutes with more uncertainty in the Sion defence granting him another shot at goal that again smashed the frame.
Lugano wouldn’t find a second for the crowd of 4’026 that came out to the Cornaredo but they controlled the game and won an easy three points to move into fourth.
Sion, with other results meaning they are now seven points behind, are in real trouble. Not just for that reason. They displayed a lack of desire and were toothless in attack. With only four wins this season, the joint-second highest goals conceded statistic in the league and a trip to Young Boys in two weeks, this is worrying for the Valais club. Their matches vs. Lausanne and Luzern next weekend and two weeks after are quickly becoming must-win.
Thun 0-2 Basel
Saturday, February 10th
FC Basel ended 2017 in very encouraging fashion. After eight straight wins in all competitions and 11 games unbeaten stretching into September, Basel, with the help of a couple of Young Boys slip-ups had closed the gap to just two points. It seemed at this stage that status quo would soon return to Switzerland with the eight times in a row winners ready to reclaim top spot in 2018. Their shock home defeat to Lugano did much to derail that plan.
It allowed Young Boys to move five clear once again and also put more pressure on an already difficult trip to the Stockhorn Arena. Thun had won at the Letzigrund last week and were riding high ahead of the visit. Basel though would’ve taken confidence from the fact that their last three visits had ended in victory and without concession of a single goal. More of the same was required on their first trip of 2018.
Basel looked up for the contest right from the get-go, taking just seconds to register their first attack on goal. A lovely lofted ball from Valentin Stocker caught sweetly on the volley by Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel but his effort was pushed onto the post by on-loan Basel goalkeeper Djordje Nikolic. RVW was thwarted by Nikolic on the 29th minute too, a point blank header right at the keeper who was able to collect at the second attempt.
Marek Suchy was next to try his luck for Basel just a couple of minutes later but another free header from a free-kick this time was pushed away by Nikolic. Basel would get the goal their play deserved just before the break though as Lang’s wonderful cross into Oberlin allowed the on-loan Salzburg striker the chance to head into the net. Thun disappointing once more as they allowed the Swiss front man the time and space to divert his effort into the goal.
Thun would try to respond in kind just after the break and Spielmann would’ve been disappointed when he diverted the ball, at pace, just beyond the post. Despite the fast start, Thun didn’t really crank up the pressure until the final twenty minutes. Gregory Karlen’s well struck volley was tipped over by Vaclik on 69 minutes and the corner that soon followed could only be headed over by Spielmann. Kablan had the final good chance for the home side with eight minutes to play as he nipped in ahead of Lang to meet the cross only to put wide.
Basel sealed the victory in added time though with a 3-on-1 counter on Thun. Elyounoussi found Bua with the ball across and despite their being a real lack of pace on the pass, Bua was able to take it beyond Nikolic and tap into the empty net. It was job done for Basel who were made to live dangerously as the game reached it’s conclusion. As has often been the case, FCB handed the pressure over to Young Boys ahead of their trip to Lausanne.
As for Thun, there was enough evidence both here and last weekend to suggest that they will be fine. In ninth but only four points off of Europe, perhaps they can dream of a surge up the table in 2018.
Grasshoppers 1-2 Luzern
Sunday, February 11th
Grasshoppers have looked like a totally different proposition under Murat Yakin, however, inconsistency remains their biggest flaw and after a good run of form they had gone four without victory heading into the break. It was a relief then to see a decent performance away at Sion to begin 2018 and a home match with struggling Luzern would’ve held plenty of incentive for the Europa League-chasing club.
Luzern on the other hand seem to have turned a corner. They had won just one out of twelve at the beginning of December but came to Zurich with three wins from four, their return from the break coming with a 2-1 win over Lausanne and the only defeat in that four-game sequence coming to the league leaders. Relegation fears seem like they will be a distant memory especially after Round 21.
Grasshoppers took twenty minutes to open the scoring with the first real attack of the half. The ball across from Lika meeting Lavanchy in the middle who was able to catch out Omlin with a lovely flick. The next chance wouldn’t come until just before half-time with Bajrami’s effort from outside the box easily held by the Luzern keeper.
Luzern should’ve equalized just a couple of minutes later though, a header from Schneuwly beaten away by Lindner before big Australian Tomi Juric could only find the side netting with the rebound. It was the first signs of life from the visitors and a warning for Grasshoppers ahead of the second half.
Kapic’s effort after half-time wasn’t enough to double the lead, an easy save for Omlin and it was Luzern that began to look the more dangerous going forward. Gvilia’s effort from range had to be tipped around the post by Lindner. A good save from the Austrian. Grasshoppers were then almost gifted the lead on 74 minutes when Taipi’s ball across was rashly cleared by the Luzern defender forcing Omlin to tip it over the bar.
Luzern would soon stun Grasshoppers though and turn the game on it’s head in a blink of an eye. With ten minutes to play, Schmid was brilliant in the box to chest down the cross for Tomi Juric and his swivel and finish into the net sparked belief in Luzern. Just three minutes later, Christian Schneuwly blasted a wonderful shot into the top corner from outside the box leaving Grasshoppers floored and giving FCL another important victory.
Grasshoppers leapfrogged by Lugano while Luzern give their European prospects a much needed shot in the arm.
Lausanne 1-4 Young Boys
Sunday, February 11th
Young Boys knew what they had to do heading to Lausanne on Sunday. This though, was the venue in which they came unstuck in a late 2-1 defeat in October, one of only three defeats this season. Adding to that, Lausanne are probably a stronger side after securing their winter recruits, than the side that won that day. It had all the makings of a banana skin for YB but was also a chance for them to show just how serious they are about ending Basel’s monopoly over the Super League title.
Lausanne dashed high hopes last week with their defeat to Luzern and while hopes would’ve been slightly less optimistic at home to the league leaders, there was still belief that they would cause YB problems. In truth, they caused very little and YB gave a clear warning as early as the 11th minute with Hoarau putting the ball into the net only to be ruled, probably wrongly, offside.
Hoarau was on target again on the half hour but his header from the corner was collected by Castella. Just one minute later though, YB would have their lead and it was worrying simple from an LS point of view. The ball across the box and Serbian midfielder Miralem Sulejmani was all alone to tap into the net. On forty minutes, YB would have the opportunity to double the lead with Ngamaleu fouled in the box. It wasn’t a penalty but then YB will probably point to the offside call for Hoarau.
The big Frenchman got his goal from the spot, he never seems to fail from 12 yards and YB were well on course for the points. More YB pressure would follow in the second half with Mbabu meeting a corner but he would’ve been disappointed not to get more on it to really test the Lausanne goalkeeper.
Hoarau was at it again on 66 minutes though. He is of massive importance to this title-chasing side and it showed again. Plucking the ball out of the air, he looped a volley over Castella to seal the victory.
Lausanne responded just seven minutes later to give themselves hope hope, the first bit of genuine quality all day from them as the exciting prospect, Andi Zeqiri, cut into the box and fired a low shot into the goal beyond Wolfli. Enzo Zidane, son of Zinedine, is yet to catch the eye so far but he missed the chance to really put LS back into contention, although his shot was well saved by Wolfli with five minutes to play.
In the end, Ngamaleu would have the final say. The assist from Sanogo and the big striker had little problem finding the corner of the net with a low drive beyond the goalkeeper. It was the perfect finishing note to an impressive YB performance. They are showing they have the mettle for this title race and restored their five-point lead.
Lausanne sit in eighth and while the dismal performances of Sion mean relegation is unlikely, they will be keen to get back to winning ways. They have the chance to do that away to Sion on Sunday. If they fail then perhaps they should begin to look over their shoulder.
St. Gallen 1-2 Zurich
Sunday, February 11th
St. Gallen and Zurich were both hungry to make up for the defeats they suffered on their return to league duty. St. Gallen’s was perhaps expected as YB steamrolled them at the Stade de Suisse. Zurich though were very disappointing and despite a late fightback, they would lose out to Thun at the Letzigrund. Victory would certainly provide the perfect tonic to those first week woes.
It took just six minutes for Zurich to introduce themselves at kybunpark with Michael Frey’s low effort beating Stojanovic but crashing against the post. They would go close again just one minute later with Nef’s volley forcing the Macedonian international into action to push the ball over the bar. The pressure continued with another effort from Michael Frey on 23 minutes which flashed across the goal and out of play.
St. Gallen finally began to play soon after with Itten receiving the ball into the box but Vanins did well to get in front of and collect the shot. FCSG proved more clinical just before the break though and took the chance as the cutback found Aratore to arrow the shot into the corner. FCZ left cursing themselves for missed opportunities.
It took until 66 minutes for Zurich to muster any kind of response – but what a response! 19-year old youth product Fabian Rohner lashing a shot into the goal via the crossbar from the edge of the area. It was the impetus that FCZ needed and soon after it was Antonio Marchesano going for the wonder strike, his volley cracking the crossbar.
St. Gallen’s Peter Tschernegg would attempt to stem the flow though but his disappointing shot was collected by Vanins at the second attempt. Frey couldn’t do much better at the other end as Stojanovic lost the ball leaving his goal unguarded but the striker could only curl it around the post. It didn’t matter in the end though as on 77 minutes, FCZ capitalized on their pressure with Palsson heading down for Dwamena to poke the ball into the goal.
A much improved performance from Zurich but still disappointing from FCSG. FCZ re-affirm their third place status while St. Gallen remain just outside the relegation places but with two defeats in a row and just two victories in their last seven.