Manchester United opened their 2017-18 UEFA Champions League campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over FC Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday
Manchester United continued their unbeaten start to the season into the UEFA Champions League, making a winning return to Europe’s premier club competition. The Red Devils saw off FC Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday night in convincing fashion, with a 3-0 win in their European curtain raiser.
The hosts made a slow start to the match, failing to capitalise at the chances created early on. But, the deadlock was finally broken ten minutes before half-time when Marouane Fellaini headed in from Ashley Young’s pinpoint cross.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 12, 2017
Following the restart in the second half, the lead was doubled quickly. This time Romelu Lukaku scored with his head from Daley Blind’s cross in a crowded area to give Manchester United a strong foothold in the match.
The win was then rounded off in the dying stages of the encounter, when Marcus Rashford converted from Fellaini’s low cross to send the Red Devils to the top of Group A. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at some of the major talking points that emerged from the match on Tuesday.
Fabulous Fellaini Makes The Difference
Jose Mourinho had famously claimed in the build up to the match that he felt “weaker” without a certain Marouane Fellaini in his matchday squad, before adding that the Belgian midfielder, who has often been on the receiving end of fans’ ire over the years, was one of the most important players in his first-team setup.
On Tuesday, Mourinho named Fellaini on the bench after he managed to recover from a calf problem. But, he was called into action rather earlier than anyone would have anticipated as he replaced Paul Pogba, less than twenty minutes into the match.
Marouane Fellaini’s game by numbers vs. Basel:
3 aerial duels won
Answered the call. pic.twitter.com/TqjPqwN29V
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 12, 2017
Replacing one of the most pivotal figures in the Manchester United squad isn’t easy by any means, but Fellaini’s impact was so pronounced that the Frenchman’s absence wasn’t felt a great deal for large parts of the match.
On the face of it, the Belgium international opened the scoring for his side before providing the assist for the goal that completed the win, but his influence on the match was much more than that. Unmatched in the air, strong on the ground with his tackling and neat and assured with his passing, he produced a dream performance on the night.
With the extent of Pogba’s injury not yet known, Fellaini becomes an all the more vital cog in Mourinho’s plans. Nevertheless, the Belgian has vindicated his manager’s continued faith in him, repaying him in kind and more.
Pogba Sidelined – Manchester United Dealt A Big Blow
Talking about the injury that cut short Paul Pogba’s participation in the match, it was a bitter blow for the Frenchman, who had been handed the captain’s armband in his Champions League debut for Manchester United.
Pogba has been nothing short of exemplary for Manchester United, often dictating the tempo of the matches while also chipping in with many-a-vital goal. His Champions League debut for the Red Devils though, ended after just 18 minutes after he injured his hamstring after stretching to reach the ball.
Jose Mourinho: “I haven’t spoken to Paul Pogba or the medical staff yet. I don’t cry about injuries. No Paul for Sunday.” pic.twitter.com/uE7flX7g5c
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 12, 2017
Fortunately for Jose Mourinho and co., his absence was not felt much on the night, but with the Manchester United boss building his system around the Frenchman, everyone associated with the club would certainly be sweating over his fitness.
Mourinho was not able to put a time stamp on Pogba’s possible return, but with a busy schedule up ahead, the midfielder needs to return sooner rather than later, even though the likes of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini sit in waiting to take up the vacant spot in his absence.
A Robust Second-Choice Defence
A big cause of concern for Manchester United fans ahead of the visit of Basel was the fact that Mourinho was heading into the match without the presence of his first-choice central defensive pairing, with Phil Jones and Eric Bailly suspended.
Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling were the chosen ones to replace the duo, but the real shock quotient was provided when the team sheet was announced. Antonio Valencia was not a part of the starting lineup and Ashley Young had been picked to man the right side of defence, in what was his first start of the season.
But while the announcement of his name might have made a few fans jittery, Young showed that he still has a role to play for Manchester United despite his best years being well behind him as bombared forward relentlessly on the right flank, while also giving a good account of himself at the back.
Ashley Young’s game by numbers vs. Basel:
Super service. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/csyGHy7bMQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 12, 2017
His performances was rewarded with an assist as his pinpoint cross was duly converted by Fellaini. On the opposite flank, Daley Blind, too, provided an assist from an aerial delivery that showcased yet another element in the Manchester United attack.
At the heart of defence though, Lindelof and Smalling were assured and composed, making their first start together since their embarrassing outing against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Granted, the level of ability between the two attacking units is significant, but this was a performance that will go a long way in building the duo’s confidence for a hard season.
The Need To Be More Clinical
The result on the night may have been emphatic, but the performance ended up leaving much to be desired. You might be wondering what all the fuss is about, with Manchester United scoring three goals in the match without being troubled much by Basel over the course of the ninety minutes.
However, much like their outing against Stoke City on the weekend Jose Mourinho’s men need to be picked out for their lack of ruthlessness on the night. In particular, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose finishing abilities have come under the scanner, is a player who needs to be more clinical.
“Bad decisions, fantasy football, Playstation football”
Mourinho still wants to see more…
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) September 12, 2017
The Armenian missed two clear cut chances early on in the match – a headed chance over the bar and the second, more damning one being his close-range strike that struck the post. Romelu Lukaku, too, was at fault as he failed to score a second headed goal when completely unmarked.
Jose Mourinho was visibly unhappy by the style of play on the night from his side, claiming that it was more of ‘PlayStation football” rather than what he would like to have seen from his men.
As the players still try to reach the level they were playing at before the international break, the Manchester United boss would be hoping for it to happen sooner rather than later as games start to come thick and fast.
A Night Of Firsts
Although Lukaku was guilty of missing a good chance to double his tally for the night, he did well to grab the goal he did score on the night. That goal was his first in the Champions League for Manchester United in the very first appearance in the competition for his side, as he continued his brilliant scoring run.
It also provided another reminder that the Belgian, even though he may not be a finished product yet, has several dimensions in his game that make him an inspired signing for Manchester United. He has now scored two goals each from his right foot, left foot and head, and looks on course to score plenty more over the course of the season.
Marcus Rashford’s debuts:
FA Cup: ⚽️
League Cup: ⚽️
England U21: ⚽️⚽️⚽️
— BlameFootball (@blamefootball) September 13, 2017
Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford, too, grabbed yet another goal in his debut in a competition. Thus far, he had scored in his first Europa League, Premier League, League Cup, English under-21 and senior appearance.
On Thursday, he stretched that record to the Champions League, as he found the back of the net in his debut in Europe’s premier club competition as well. While the Englishman, like Lukaku, is not a finished article yet, he has, time and again, underlined just why there’s so much excitement around his talent.