FC Basel manager Raphael Wicky admits that Taulant Xhaka will be a big loss for their forthcoming Champions League clash with Manchester United, although he believes his side have the necessary quality to thrive in a tough contest even without the highly-rated Albania international.
The combative Xhaka, older brother of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, is an influential figure in midfield for the reigning Swiss champions but will sit out Wednesday's (22 November) Group A fixture at St. Jakob-Park after collecting his third yellow card of the group stage campaign during the 2-1 defeat to CSKA Moscow last month.
His absence could be considered as a key setback to Basel's hopes of repeating their 2011 heroics against United and securing a victory that could seem them qualify for the last 16 if CSKA lose at home to Benfica, yet Wicky is confident that the central partnership of Ivorian Serey Die and Switzerland's Luca Zuffi can continue to succeed.
The duo started together for the 5-1 win over FC Sion on Saturday, with Xhaka only introduced as a late substitute. They were also partnered in the recent 1-1 draw with title rivals Young Boys, which their teammate missed through illness.
"I think Serey Die has similar qualities to Xhaka; he's passionate," Wicky told reporters during his pre-United press conference, per uefa.com. "Luca Zuffi always keeps his cool and is always technically very good.
"I think it's a combo in midfield that works well. Of course we'll miss Taulant Xhaka, as he's a great player for us, but I'm convinced that we have good quality, and I'm not worried."
In addition to the suspended Xhaka, Basel also remain without veteran back-up goalkeeper Germano Vailati and prolific striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel for the visit of group leaders United.
The former is currently rehabbing after shoulder surgery, while the latter has not played since fracturing his foot during the 5-0 rout of Benfica on matchday two in late September. Right-back Omar Gaber is also listed as a doubt.
Wicky, whose side are currently seven points adrift of top spot in the Swiss Super League after claiming eight consecutive domestic titles, also allayed any concerns over the playing surface in Basel, which was relaid after it cut up badly during Switzerland's 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off second-leg draw with Northern Ireland earlier this month.
"I haven't seen it since Saturday but it's actually better than it looks," he was quoted as saying by The Mail. "It might have some flaws in colour, but that doesn't take anything away from the function. Once the ball jumped up a little high, but overall the pitch is good."
United faced similar concerns before Europa League ties in Odessa and Rostov last season, although Jose Mourinho seems content to trust Wicky's judgement on this occasion and is willing to risk the likes of recently returned trio Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.