Manchester United eased back into Champions League life as Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford put Basle to the sword.
Last season was just the second time in 22 years that the three-time European champions were without a place at the continent’s top table, but May’s Europa League triumph brought a much-needed return.
United’s first Champions League match in 644 days ended in a straightforward Old Trafford victory as substitute Fellaini, in-form Lukaku and substitute Rashford kicked off Group A with a 3-0 win against Basle.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL IN SEPTEMBER
A return to a terse memory of a cold winter night at St. Jakob’s Park and David De Gea would remember these opponents well. It was in his early days at the club that he was a helpless bystander as a make shift defense fell apart. Since then, most of the team have left either in retirement or for other pastures including the esteemed ‘boss’. But the pain lingers.
Manchester United is a team in revision. Trying to reclaim their glorious days of the past. And one of the most bitter memories in recent times would have been the defeat to FC Basel that jettisoned them from Champions League contenders to Europa League hopefuls. It would be a harbinger to their fall from the premier stages as for the next few years, United led themselves astray.
So, when the names of Benfica and Basel came out from the Champions League sorting alongside Manchester United, Ferguson may have looked on and realized that while he had passed – there was still a chance at redemption and removing that night from the painful dreams of the Stetford End faithful. It was destiny that United’s return to the this hallowed forum would be with opponents that started their slide.
AN OMINOUS START
Manchester United went forward with purpose as a harried Basle defense grew more and more tense with every attack. But the seeds of United’s recent problems were being planted again. Whether it was the shocking misses from the usually reliable Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or more horribly, the newly appointed captain Paul Pogba walking off with an injury. Jose Mourinho’s brow started to furrow deep.
RAIN AND RELIEF
The forecast had called for rain, and the ground was soon feeling the clouds pouring down. Pogba walking off for Marouane Fellani proved to be the lucky break United needed, as a brilliantly placed cross from Ashley Young found the Belgian’s head. Often criticized for being a one-trick pony, Fellani proved again that when it came to crunch situations, the manager could always rely on him.
Half time came and United despite their lead were still within range of Basel. One good attack and a harrowing trip down memory lane may start. But with the restart came new purpose, as Romenu Lukaku finally living his dream of the Champions League set down a marker for his exploits on this stage – a classic header from a short corner. He had arrived.
Things became a little dull after that, but Marcus Rashford decided to put a cherry on top of the cake with mishit shot that jumped up and bounced into the net. For all the clinical finishing required, it almost seemed like irony that a non-shot would end up becoming a goal.
And as for De Gea, the man who over the last 6 years cemented himself in the United goal – he must have smiled. Especially after having conceded 5 goals to the same opposition in his last two matches. A relaxing night for the goalkeeper and the journey back had truly begun.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Marouane Fellani is not your typical midfielder that captures the attention of both media and audience. While his hairstyle can be a little atypical, his on-field activities are more of quiet debate than rousing celebration. Coming in place of an injured Pogba though, he demonstrated the feats that make him so beloved to every United manager he had played under. A well placed header broke the deadlock before an assist capped off the wonderful return to the Champions League for the club. This man is the guy to go to for those big moments in big matches.
- This is the first time since November 2002 that Manchester United has defeated FC Basle. In between, there have been two draws and a loss for the Red Devils
- All three names on the score sheet for Manchester United were goal debutants in the Champions League. Lukaku, Rashford and Fellani all scored their first Champions League goals.
- FC Basle have gone 4 matches without a win now (3 in Swiss Super League, 1 in Champions League)