Manchester United returned to Champions League in style as they dispatched off Swiss champions FC Basel 3-0 in their first group stage game of the 2017-18 season. Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford were on target for Jose Mourinho’s side.
In the eventful first half, United received a big blow as Pogba limped and was subbed off due to a hamstring problem in the 19th minute, after a heavy challenge. Mkhitaryan wasted two good chances- ballooning his header from only eight yards out and then failing to score from a Lukaku cross when he really should’ve scored but could only manage to hit the post. The visitors didn’t have any big chances in the first half, apart from a soft Kevin Bua strike which was caught by De Gea. Substitute Fellaini finally broke the deadlock in the 35th minute when he headed home Young’s cross to give his side the lead going into half time.
United then scored another goal just after the break, as Lukaku’s header from Blind’s cross found its way into the net. De Gea then made a superb save to thwart Elyounoussi and the visitors a chance to make a comeback. Rashford then put the cherry on the cake as he came off the bench to score his first UCL goal and put the game to bed.
Here are the major Talking Points from the match:
Fellaini Deserves Respect
Mourinho stated before the match that Fellaini was “more important to me than you can imagine”, and the Belgian midfielder put in another assuring performance in another important game for his side. He has rarely underperformed in the big matches, and has provided Mourinho with a solid Plan B. He definitely deserves a lot more respect, and fans that still give him a stick should be shown his thumping header tonight on a loop for hours!
‘Young’ boost for United
Ashley Young’s return to the first team surprised many fans. And their surprise was justified- this was an important UCL match and Young had just recently returned from an injury that had kept him out since May. However, his performance was a slap on his critics’ face, as his confident display received a lot of praise from fans and pundits alike. His sublime cross for Fellaini’s opener and his flawless defending showed that his fitness wasn’t lacking in any way. Moreover, his attacking and positioning is certainly an upgrade on an out of form Valencia, who could even lose his place to Young if he keeps up his performances in the next few matches.
Flattering Score line
The scoreline was flattering, and Basel weren’t as bad as the 3-0 suggested. They played with aggression, and even though they were the second best team in the first half, they came back after the break looking a lot more confident than before. They were solid in defending, and were undone by their only weakness- set pieces. Coach Raphael Wicky won’t be happy after the match, but he won’t be angry either. After all, playing toe-to-toe against a well drilled Mourinho side is itself a good enough achievement for a Swiss side without any star names.
Pogba Injury Scare
The skipper of the night, Paul Pogba, limped off in only the 19th minute of the match. It is still unclear how long he’ll stay out, but early reports suggest that he could miss weeks of action if his hamstring problem is serious. Mourinho hasn’t addressed it yet, and fans would be hoping that his injury doesn’t keep him out for long during a pretty busy month.
Centre-backs shows promise
Even though he stated prior to the match that all of his defenders are equal in his eyes, it is evident that Jones and Bailly are Mourinho’s preferred choice at the back. But the performance of Smalling and Lindelof tonight could surely give him a headache. Both were solid and kept a clean sheet against a relatively unknown side. An even though Lindelof looked a bit shaky at times, he did show that he’s got a lot of potential and all he needs is a bit of time. Which surely won’t be a problem when other defenders are around. Right, Jose?