What a difference a few weeks make in football! After the gloom following yet another listless defeat at Stamford Bridge a few weeks ago, Manchester United fans had their appetite for the remainder of the season whetted again by the return from long-term injuries of several star players, none more so than French midfield general Paul Pogba. It’s no coincidence that his return to 1st team duty on Saturday evening prompted a United display that ultimately blew Newcastle United away at a boisterous Old Trafford, despite the visitors taking a shock lead through Dwight Gayle.
Attentions turn now to securing safe passage into the Champions League knock-out phase in the springtime, and having won all four of their previous games in Group A, United need only a point in Switzerland this evening to be sure of remaining in the competition after Christmas. Our opponents, F.C. Basel, have put the disappointment of a 3-0 opening day defeat at Old Trafford behind them, winning games at home to Benfica and away to C.S.K.A. Moscow before a shock 1-2 defeat to the Russians in the last match at St. Jakob Park has left them unsure of emerging from the Group themselves.
The return of Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Marcos Rojo gives Jose Mourinho a nice problem which he hasn’t really had to deal with this season yet: genuine competition for shirts in the starting XI. With important games coming along in the Premier League, I have a feeling there may be some rotation in operation this evening.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – David has been in outstanding form, and will be hoping to secure another clean sheet this evening. One thing he may need to look out for is the pitch itself, which is in relatively poor condition.
RB: Matteo Darmian – I’d give the Italian lad a chance to get some game time under his belt this evening; Tony Valencia is our first choice right-back and we need him to be as fresh as possible for upcoming Premier League fixtures.
LB: Daley Blind- Blind is a great alternative to have for Ashley Young, who had a great game against Newcastle United and, like Valencia, needs to be fresh for Premier League games. Luke Shaw is back to full fitness and could also challenge for a starting place in this position.
CBs: Victor Lindelof & Chris Smalling– with Phil Jones and Eric Bailly unlikely to be recovered enough from recent knocks to start this game, I’d expect Smalling and Victor Lindelof to partner up against the Swiss outfit. To be honest I’ll be very disappointed if they do not dominate forward players of the limited calibre of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who struggled to make an impact during his time at Norwich City a few years ago.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Marouane Fellaini– The return to fitness of the big Belgian provides an opportunity to ease Paul Pogba back into competitive action, as was shown with his cameo 60 minutes against Rafa Benitez’ side on Saturday. Partnered with the hugely effective Matic, these two should be more than good enough to wrestle control of the game away from Basel in the midfield.
RM: Jesse Lingard – Jesse didn’t make it onto the pitch on Saturday, so should be fresh and ready to stake a claim for a regular starting position against the Swiss. His constant running and intelligence should provide an outlet in our attacking moves.
CM(A): Juan Mata- Juan again showcased his abilities with some nice football against Newcastle, and I’d be hoping he can repeat that form in Basel, since the Swiss side look no better than Benitez’ team in my opinion.
LM: Marcus Rashford – Marcus is in simply irresistible form, and I wouldn’t want to be the Basel right-back, having to try to curtail his influence on the game! He got a lovely assist for Pogba’s goal on Saturday with a clever header to provide the big Frenchman with a tap-in, showing he is much more than just a willing runner…
CF: Romelu Lukaku – We hoped Romelu would get back on the scoreboard again soon, and so it proved with a cool finish to round off the 4-1 win over Newcastle United; he’ll be licking his lips in anticipation of a goal or two against Basel, and if we can give him service, he’ll be hard to stop.
BENCH: Romero, Herrera, Martial, Shaw, Pogba, Rojo, Ibrahimović.
I expect United to be the better team tonight, though F.C. Basel are no mugs, and a result will have to be worked for. The venue this evening, St. Jakob Park, was the venue for the recent Switzerland-Northern Ireland World Cup Qualifying Play-off game, and on that evening the pitch was a disgrace, albeit the Swiss city suffered from a very heavy torrential downpour hours before kick-off. If it is in the same sort of condition tonight, it really could be a bit of a “leveller”, and is another reason why I wouldn’t be starting any of our recent injury “returnees”. The manager will want to get qualification for the knock-out phase of this competition confirmed as soon as possible, and if we are struggling to achieve the desired result, I can see him bringing some of the ‘heavy artillery’ off the bench to get the job done. A win should be well within our capabilities, but with a home game against C.S.K.A. Moscow still to come, a draw this evening would be an acceptable outcome.