Round 22 may go down as the significant round in Switzerland for the 17/18 season. It may be the moment that is looked back upon as pivotal for both Young Boys and Neuchatel Xamax in their quest for their respective titles. Perhaps not, but this weekend certainly saw both take a giant step towards their targets. There are still 14 rounds to go but not many will be gambling on the fortunes of Basel or Servette down that stretch.
With two derby matches in the Super League and a direct title clash in the Monday evening slot in the Challenge League, there is much to discuss at the conclusion of this round. Here are the four talking points:
EIGHT AND OUT FOR FCB?
It has become so normal that the thought at the beginning of the season if FC Basel not claiming their ninth title in a row would’ve been scoffed at. Basel are simply too strong and no one else had the consistency to mount a challenge. Those predictions have been crushed by Young Boys, a side so often the architects of their own defeat, as they have not only taken on that challenge for the first time in many years in Switzerland but they have taken it by the neck and there is now a real possibility of a first league title since the 1985/86 season.
Basel came out of their winter break still a little frozen when Lugano left St. Jakob-Park with three points. A win for Young Boys allowed the gap to be widened from 2 to 5. Not critical but not ideal for Basel who had worked hard to find their form in the winter months and had closed the gap in the first place. The victory at Thun last weekend allowed FCB to get back on track and despite the gap remaining at five points, they seemed to show that Round 20 vs. Lugano was an aberration.
After this weekend though, FC Basel have fallen down a massive hole. Their defeat to St. Gallen wasn’t just so galling because it left them eight points behind again, it was the manner of the defeat, it was the fact they couldn’t score against the second worst defence in the league. It was the fact that they were simply outfought and tactically outdone on their own patch and by their own player in Cedric Itten. It was the fact that FCB, for the first time since 1997 that they’ve lost two home games in a row in the league and the first time since 1995 that they’ve failed to score in two consecutive home games.
It was the lack of spirit, the laboured performance, that the think tank had gone empty so early and in such a crucial point. It was a clear indication that perhaps this FC Basel side, usually a side with a winning mentality in abundance, are simply not up to the task. Perhaps they don’t have the stomach for their first real title fight and perhaps this really is eight and out for the champions of Switzerland. You may not be saying that for much longer.
Young Boys are now the polar opposite. Everything Basel were and want to be has been encapsulated in the YB performances this season. There has been the ugly performances home and away to Thun and the defeat to Lausanne but for the most part, it has been effective and efficient performances that have YB where they are. They not only win games but they do so with good, attacking football and no side can seem to handle them.
Even their bogey team, FC Thun came unstuck at the Stade de Suisse on Sunday. Hoarau and Assale had Young Boys comfortable after the half hour and while Dennis Hediger reduced the deficit in the 68th minute, this isn’t the YB side of old. While last season or before, they would’ve crumbled and Thun would’ve taken a point, they just promptly went up and scored with Hoarau once again putting an exclamation mark on another job well done.
There is much football to be played but FCB simply need to win and keep winning and I’m not so sure they can.
Is it over for FCB?
NEUCHATEL EDGE CLOSER…
There are many factors which could’ve made the Challenge League clash between Neuchatel and Servette a true title clash. Instead of the 11 points separating the sides heading into the game, it could’ve been much less. IF Servette had won vs. Chiasso and Neuchatel didn’t mount their remarkable comeback in Liechtenstein. IF Servette hadn’t collapsed in spectacular fashion in early December when Xamax came to Geneva and left with three points despite being a goal down in the final two minutes.
All of that meant Neuchatel welcomed SFC to the Stade de la Maladiere on Monday with a comfortable lead in the table and knowing that even defeat, something to be avoided obviously, wouldn’t even really have them sweating. In the end, despite Servette giving their fans hope once again with De Ceglie opening the scoring early, the trend continued as Neuchatel levelled through Treand. It is a result that will suit the league leaders perfectly as they keep their Genevan visitors at arms length in the league.
It is hard to argue a case for Neuchatel not earning promotion from here either. They simply have been the best team in the league. They display all the characteristics needed, evident in their 3-3 draw with Vaduz or that late win at Servette. They have lost two games all season, the same number as Servette, but crucially they simply win. They’ve lost dropped six more points while Servette have dropped fourteen. It isn’t over yet but it would be a comeback of epic proportions if it isn’t Neuchatel promoted at the end of this season.
Neuchatel equalize on Monday evening
HOPE FOR SION…
There is something Sion fans aren’t used to much lately, hope. It has really been a turgid season for the Valais club with the Europa League elimination by Lithuanian minnows FK Suduva, who won both legs, the cup elimination by Lausanne-Ouchy, the run of just two wins in nineteen games leaving them rock bottom and their ever-meddling and quite frankly, crazy chairman who is right at the centre of it. It seemed that all of his interference may have come back to bite Sion by way of relegation with them sitting seven points adrift before Round 22 but now they have belief, a much needed win under their belt and the gap closed to Thun to four points.
The pretty baffling appointment of Gabri didn’t help matters and Maurizio Jacobacci doesn’t have the most glittering resume as he is promoted from his role as youth team manager. His first game didn’t go to plan at Lugano as they were completely outplayed and lucky to escape at only 1-0 but to credit Jacobacci, he delivered their first win since late November and in a real pressure game vs. fellow relegation candidates Lausanne, they sealed the win with Rochat’s own goal, Schneuwly’s second and the late finish from Adryan to finish Lausanne off.
Sion are still in trouble, but it is a start. They can probably be written off at the Stade de Suisse on Saturday and they’ll simply be hoping that Lausanne and Thun don’t pick up points otherwise it will be back to square one. Three of their next four after that are at home with Luzern and Thun coming to the Tourbillon. They are quickly becoming must win but if they do get the points then suddenly things won’t be so bleak for a club that has preserved it’s Super League status since 2006.
Relief and ecstasy for Sion on Sunday
Elsewhere, there were plenty of goals. 32 to be exact across 10 games this weekend with Vaduz hitting five in their home demolition of struggling Wohlen by a 5-1 scoreline and Aarau scoring four in their 4-1 victory over ten-men Chiasso at Brugglifeld. Young Boys and Sion both hit three in their 3-1 victories over Thun and Lausanne respectively while Schaffhausen were beaten by the same scoreline when they visited Rapperswil at Grunfeld.
The goals were shared in Zurich with two sides battling for Europe sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw which was, of course, the same scoreline in Neuchatel. FC Wil, St. Gallen and Lugano all kept clean sheets in their victories over Winterthur, Basel and Grasshoppers.
FC Wil have found some good form with four wins out of their last five. St. Gallen were given a much needed boost after two straight defeats but Lugano were perhaps just as impressive. They recorded their third 1-0 victory in a row and are the only side in both leagues yet to concede since the return from the winter break. Their efficient performances has them up at fourth and looking for a second consecutive crack at European competition.
Mariani delivered the decisive goal at the Cornaredo vs. Grasshoppers