FC Basel possess a deadly striking duo in Alexander Frei and Marco Streller. History beckons the pair as a marquee Europa League quarterfinal awaits the Swiss.
Marko Streller and Alexander Frei have been carrying the Swiss Super League champions FC Basel with their fine goalscoring exploits in the last few seasons. Even though opposing teams have identified the pair as their main threat, they couldn’t stop this juggernaut from defeating the opposition — not even English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United. One could argue that it was a certain Xherdan Shaqiri who marked his arrival in that match, but no one can deny the influence of this combination of Streller and Frei.
FC Basel can better their record in Europa League this week with a marquee win against Tottenham Hotspur, which will put them in the semifinals. It would be their best ever performance in the continental level for the Swiss domestic giants. And Streller and Frei hold the keys.
Marco Streller: FC Basel’s Prodigal Son
Marco Streller at 6’5 possesses a target man like figure. At 31 years of age his game has become better with each passing year, like wine. Streller made his professional debut for FC Basel in 2000, but he couldn’t nail down a regular starting spot in the first three years, resulting in loan spells to Concordia Basel and FC Thun. Slowly he started to get a handle on the Swiss Super League, and when Streller found his feet at last, interest from top European clubs flooded in.
In 2004, VfB Stuttgart moved quickly to secure Swiss international’s signature as they were in search of a prolific target-man striker to lead from the front. Even though Stuttgart were successful in securing the hot property from Switzerland, Marco Streller never got acclimatized in the Bundesliga as injuries and below par performances took a toll on his career. Another loan spell awaited him, and a move to FC Köln in 2006 was supposed to put things back on track for the target-man. Streller got much needed game time in Köln, but he never had an influence on the proceedings at the Rhein Energie Stadium.
Marco Streller was back at Mercedez-Benz Arena next season during Stuttgart’s Bundesliga winning campaign. Stuttgart had a fine season, riding on the brilliance of Timo Hilderbrand, Mathew Delpierre, Serdar Tasci, Roberto Hilbert, Thomas Hitzelperger, Sami Khedira, Cacau and Mario Gomez. Cacau and the young Gomez shared the bulk of goal-scoring responsibilities, while Marco Streller failed to impress once again and his stats read a paltry 5 goals in 27 appearances in a Bundesliga winning campaign. This was the season in which Mario Gomez announced his arrival in style and penned down his own starting spot at the Mercedez-Benz Arena. As a result, Marco Streller couldn’t get going and was snapped up on a free transfer by Swiss giants FC Basel.
The next 5 years at FC Basel were eventful and rejuvenating for Marco Streller. His goal-scoring exploits have been at an all time best with a goal in every two games after over 150 appearances. Streller has 4 Swiss Super League titles under his belt in the last 5 year, in addition to 3 cup wins in the same period. In 2011, Marco Streller succeeded Franco Constanzo as FC Basel’s captain. The talismanic target-man has been an influential figure in the dressing room, guiding the youngsters and stepping up when needed. Basel’s success in the last 3 seasons in Switzerland is unparalleled; and Streller and Co. have enjoyed a fine run in Europa League as well. They are on the verge of something big now, as they can better their record in Europa League with a win against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday. Furthermore, FC Basel are on course to lift their 4th consecutive Swiss title at the expense of Grasshoper Zurich.
Swiss Legend Alexander Frei
Alexander Frei is Streller’s partner in crime when demolishing the opposition. Even though Frei has retired from international duties, he continues to torment opponents in the Swiss Super League for champions FC Basel. A much travelled footballer, Alexander Frei was Switzerland’s torch bearer during his peak time and his records at various clubs speak volumes about his threat.
The man who started his professional career at FC Basel has went on to play for 3 other clubs in Switzerland before travelling abroad. From 1997-2003, former Switzerland Captain Alexander Frei has represented FC Basel, FC Thun, FC Luzern and Servette FC. Frei had more than 60 goals under his belt for various Switzerland clubs before making a much anticipated move to France. Stade Rennais welcomed Frei with both arms and he soon became indispensable in their plans. Two-time Swiss Footballer of the Year Alexander Frei amazed with 47 goals in 100 appearances during his 3 year stint at Rennais. Frei was the League 1 top-scorer by notching up 20 goals in the 2004-05 season. Stade Rennais couldn’t hold on to him much longer, however, as interest in Frei mounted and in 2006 Borussia Dortmund grabbed the Swiss footballing icon in a smart piece of business.
Switzerland’s all time leading goalscorer found his feet quickly in the Bundesliga and became Dortmund’s top scorer with 16 goals in 32 appearances during his first season. Then an unfortunate injury curtailed further progress as the next two seasons weren’t as productive as the first one. His final Bundesliga record reads 34 goals in 74 appearances, but Frei’s importance for Dortmund went beyond his goals, and he was one of their most influential players.
In 2009, Frei decided to return to his home nation after 6 years abroad. Alexander Frei started impressively for FC Basel in his first season during his second stint by adding 15 goals to his tally and leading the team to the domestic double. In the last two seasons Alexander Frei was the top-scorer in the Swiss Super league with 27 and 24 goals respectively. The Swiss legend announced his retirement in mid-April, but is planning to continue as the sporting director after his playing days end.
The Frei-Streller Partnership
The Frei-Streller combination has been leading the line for FC Basel in the past 4 seasons. Switzerland’s leading strike pair has more than 50 international goals between them and their understanding has improved over the years. National and club duties were performed admirably well by the duo and this has benefited FC Basel and the Switzerland national team on many occasions. One can read the other’s movements with ease, and it is their ability to contribute in each other’s success that makes them stand out as a pair. Frei and Streller’s mutual understanding and ability to make space for each other has been rewarded with a plethora of goals.
Marco Streller’s main weapon is his left foot, and he leads the line admirably well for a target-man. On the other hand Alexander Frei is comfortable both as a striker and support striker. Frei is equally comfortable on both feet, and he is at an advantage over left footed Marco Streller when it comes to finishing as well. FC Basel usually plays the 5’11 Frei as second striker in order to utilize his almost telepathic understanding with Streller. Frei has blossomed into a superior forward after he found his home in this partnership with Streller, even at the wrong side of 30.
The pair accounted for 36 goals in the 2009-10 season with Streller leading the scoring charts. In the next seasons, their partnership blossomed and the roles were reversed, as Streller turned provider while Frei grabbed the Swiss Golden Player Award for Best Forward. In 2010-11 and 2011-12 the pair accounted for 37 goals in their club’s successful campaign. Compared to those years, the strikers have fallen off the radar this season as they have scored only 19 goals so far. Alexander Frei is slowly entering the record books, but still on his day he is a tormentor for the opposition and his partnership with Marco Streller is deadly as ever.
Basel’s goal-scoring responsibilities primarily lie with this older duo, as young strikers Mohammed Salah and Jacques Zousa have not found their feet in Switzerland yet. Salah and Zousa, just 20 and 21 respectively, are ones for the future and are learning the ropes from Swiss masters Frei and Streller. The young duo’s scant 5 goals in 39 appearances, including substitute ones, underline the importance of the Streller-Frei partnership. To ease some of the workload from the veterans, FC Basel have roped in Young Boys’ Raul Bobadilla. He is expected to share the workload, but for the time being, Frei and Streller remains indispensable to FC Basel’s hopes.
With the Europa League quarter final against Tottenham Hotspur scheduled on Thursday, FC Basel supporters will be looking towards this dynamic pair to create history. The Frei-Streller combination has been at their best in past seasons, and their understanding and off the ball movements have improved over the years. Even though both are at the wrong end of their careers, they still represent a major threat for the English giants and the result will hinge on the duo’s performances.
In the Swiss Super League, Basel currently lead the table with 52 points, edging out 2nd placed Grasshoper Zurich by 3 points. FC Basel are at an advantage when it comes to the league, and they are expected to lift their 4th consecutive trophy this season. Even though Basel played a Swiss Super League match on Monday evening, they are expected to come out all cylinders firing against Spurs on Thursday.
In all likelihood this will be the last season of the majestic partnership of Alexander Frei and Marco Streller. FC Basel’s flag-bearing strike partnership has made them into a superior force in the domestic circuit, and now they are fighting to create history at the European level as well. Alexander Frei is set to enter his non-playing days soon. Is there a final push left in this tank to conquer Europa League?