In the last seven months, Marcos Rojo must have wondered when he would eventually return to the Manchester United squad.
Since rupturing his cruciate ligaments in April the Argentine international wouldn’t have believed he would hit the ground running in his first start this season, but even though Basel triumphed it was evident to see that the layoff hadn’t affected him too much.
Jose Mourinho had used the match in Switzerland to give Rojo the chance to gain first team experience, in anticipation of the Premier League clash against Brighton and Hove Albion this upcoming weekend.
It proved a masterstroke. For weeks United have lacked balance in the centre of defence, with the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Eric Bailly taking up those positions. And while United’s back line has stood up to the pressure in most of the matches there was never a sense that when it came to the high-intensity ties it could stand up to fluid attacks.
Rojo offers that different dimension. Against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur, the Red Devils defended as a unit for a large proportion of the match, but you wonder whether the side might’ve taken a riskier approach if Rojo had played.
Not only is the Argentine’s passing range far superior to that of any current United centre-back, but his ability to command the position and use his left-foot to stretch the play from the back are characteristics which could turn a top-four challenge into a potential title tussle with Manchester City.
His second-half goal-saving challenge to deny Dimitri Oberlin suggested the Argentinian could return to the lofty level he reached last season.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Rojo’s tackling and diagonal passes across the ragged pitch consistently dumfounded Basel’s defence, with Anthony Martial hugging the wing. The option of Marouane Fellaini, who instantly controlled the ball with his chest on numerous occasions, was one which emphasised the effectiveness of Rojo’s multi-dimensional game.
And if there was a moment in the match which summed that up it was his 45-yard deflected effort, which ricocheted off the bar towards the end of the first half.
It was not surprising to see that Jose Mourinho praised the Argentine defender.
The United boss said: He said: “Marcos Rojo played very well. I think he could be playing a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t need to rush him, push him into that situation, but he was training with the team for quite a long time.
“He had 45 minutes with the Under-23s team. We knew Marcos was ready, the doubt was 90 minutes and lasting 90 minutes. But in the first half, it was very easy. He had a lot of the ball, he didn’t have to be physically demanding.”