Manchester United travel to Switzerland to take on FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League at St. Jakob-Park on Wednesday night.
United come into the match on the back of a 4-1 thumping win over Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday, when goals from Anthony Martial, Chris Smalling, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku helped Jose Mourinho’s men to come from behind to thrash Rafa Benitez’s men, who scored first through Dwight Gayle. The win meant that United stayed second in the league standings, still trailing neighbours Manchester City by eight points.
United have enjoyed an impeccable Champions League group stage, having won all four of their matches this season. Two wins over Benfica and one each over CSKA Moscow and Basel have helped United to the top of Group A, who need to avoid a defeat tonight in order to ensure their progression to the knockout rounds as the group leaders.
FC Basel have also had an identical domestic season, sit second in the Swiss League, trailing leaders BSC Young Boys by six points. They ran out dominant winners over FC Sion 5-1 this weekend, and are still hopeful of turning their mediocre Champions League season around. Two wins in the first four games mean that they’re second in Group A, level with CSKA Moscow on six points. They can manage to progress to the next round if they manage to win both remaining matches and CSKA fail to win even one of their two remaining games.
In team news, Manchester United will be without Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, with the trio on the side lines through injury. The boss hinted in his pre-match press conference that Chris Smalling and Paul Pogba could both start against Raphael Wicky’s side, while he has confirmed that he’s likely to introduce Zlatan Ibrahimovic from the bench for about 20-25 minutes as he steps up his efforts to reaching full match fitness. Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera have also travelled with the team, while youngsters Axel Tuanzebe and Scott McTominay could also feature in tonight’s game. David de Gea could be rested though, gifting Sergio Romero his first UCL start this season. Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata could also return to the starting line-up, with the former only one card away from suspension, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whom the manager played down the rumours of his rifts with, has also travelled with the squad after sitting out the Newcastle game, which Mourinho explained to be a tactical decision.
The visitors will be without suspended midfielder Taulent Xhaka, who picked up his third yellow card in the 2-1 loss to CSKA Moscow three weeks ago , while Omar Gaber, Germano Vailati and former Norwich flop Ricky van Wolfswinkel are also expected to sit the game out through injuries.
This’ll be an interesting encounter, as United travel to the Stadium where they tasted a 2-1 defeat last time out in 2011, and Basel could prove to be tough opponents at home, having shown their credentials in the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford in September. Mourinho has an extra incentive to win the game, as it would help him play youngsters and fringe players in the next UCL game against CSKA Moscow and his side can easily shift their complete focus to catching Manchester City at the top of the league. What’ll make this game even more interesting is that Basel’s UCL fate depends on this game, and they can’t, and most probably won’t, go down without a serious fight tonight.
Mourinho is expected to play a strong-enough side tonight, which is why I’ll be tipping the visitors to a heavy victory tonight.