Can anybody stop FC Basel 1893? That is the main question before the Swiss Super League starts tonight with Christian Gross's team aiming for a hat-trick of titles.
Neuchâtel Xamax FC and BSC Young Boys get the campaign under way with the remaining teams all in action on Saturday. Basel welcome FC Schaffhausen and from that moment on the pressure will begin to bear down on the defending champions.
Loss of quality
It will not relent for the whole season; expectations are as high as ever in Basel. But for the third consecutive year, the quality of their squad has diminished. Young internationals Philipp Degen and Benjamin Huggel have left the club for the Bundesliga while Marco Zwyssig, Sébastien Barberis have retired. Also, the 20-year-old Djamel Mesbah has been loaned to FC Lorient in France.
That might not be the end of it: Argentinian strikers Christian Giménez and Julio Rossi still flirt with moves to Serie A and Murat Yakin is reported to have an offer from 1. FC Köln.
Despite their financially-dominant status in the country with a budget of €19.3m, Basel have not invested much over the close season. Still, they have recruited half a dozen new players with defender Bruno Berner from SC Freiburg and FC Thun hopeful Baykal Kulaksizoglu the most prominent.
Since those magical 2002/03 UEFA Champions League nights against the likes of Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, and Juventus FC, national glory is not enough for Basel. Last season an exit in the UEFA Cup Round of 32 was considered an international failure and they start again in the Champions League in the third qualifying round in August.
According to many, Young Boys should be the main challengers to Gross’s men. They have high hopes, linked to the opening of the new Stade de Suisse but also because of Hakan Yakin who is making a new start after a difficult time abroad. There are eight other newcomers while nine players - including veteran Stéphane Chapuisat - have departed.
Grasshoppers on the rise
After troubled times, Grasshopper-Club's prospects have improved mainly due to coach Hanspeter Latour, who arrived from Thun during the winter break. A downside is that they have lost Christoph Spycher to Eintracht Frankfurt and Stefan Lichtsteiner to LOSC Lille Métropole.
Difficult for Thun?
Thun, last season’s big surprise, face a potentially difficult season. Urs Schonenberger's team, who will tackle FC Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, have not really made up for the loss of crucial players Baykal Kulaksizoglu, Fabio Coltorti and Michel Renggli. The same could also be said of cup winners FC Zürich, who have underperformed in the last two seasons, finishing fourth and fifth. They will have to do without Daniel Gygax, another Lille signing, and departed Romanian striker Adrian Ilie.
The departure of so many players, senior and young, continues a depressing trend for the Swiss domestic game. Of the 21-man squad involved in the game with the Faroe Islands in the national team's last FIFA World Cup qualifier, 15 now play abroad.
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