BASEL 1 – MANCHESTER UNITED 0 REDS SUFFER DEFEAT IN UCL
When all the excitement had died down and everyone put their calculators away, the damage to Manchester United’s hopes of Champions League progress wasn’t that bad after all with this defeat.
A late Basle winner at St Jakob-Park on Wednesday night changed the complexion of this match and the picture in Group A.
Enough for United to miss out on the knockout stage after surrendering their 100 per cent record? Hardly. They still only need a point to qualify as group winners and will fancy their chances of getting it on December 5 at home to a CSKA Moscow side already well beaten 4-1 in Russia.
The bottom line is that Moscow must win by more than six goals at Old Trafford — United haven’t lost at home in 38 games — so don’t expect Jose Mourinho to be losing sleep anytime soon.
Fellaini is given close marking by Basel defender
What will perplex the United manager far more is how his team contrived to lose this match.
‘Strange game,’ mused Mourinho afterwards. ‘I think we play a match like this 10 times and nine we win comfortably. The one was now.’
Defeat in Switzerland wasn’t in the script. Nor was it on the cards after a United side showing seven changes from the weekend bossed the opening 45 minutes and hit the woodwork twice.
This was not a night when Mourinho parked the bus and got caught out. But the second half was a very different affair. United hardly had a shot on goal as Basle sensed their opportunity.
Mourinho was forced to replace the dominant Paul Pogba in the 66th minute in only his second game back since suffering a hamstring injury in the 3-0 win over Basle at Old Trafford in September. The introduction of Nemanja Matic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not have the desired effect.
It came as no surprise whatsoever when the plucky Swiss snatched victory in the 89th minute.
Marcos Rojo, who impressed on his comeback from a torn cruciate ligament just four days after Ibrahimovic made his return from the same injury, committed a foul on the halfway line.
Still there appeared to be little threat to a United side seeing out the few remaining minutes for the draw they needed to go through.
However, the free-kick found its way to the impressive Renato Steffen, who danced past two United players and switched play to the left where Raoul Petretta was charging upfield on the overlap.
Petretta’s cross to the far post cut out three defenders and reached Michael Lang, who had lost Daley Blind and turned the ball into an empty net.
Pogba tries to curl one in
Daley was blaming himself, but it’s totally unfair,’ said Mourinho. ‘I refuse that situation because we are a team and in the first half we should be winning five or six-nil.
‘That was not Daley’s fault, for sure, so we put ourselves in this position.’
Mourinho had a point. United opened up their opponents as early as the 12th minute when the pace on Pogba’s pass in to Romelu Lukaku enabled the Belgian to spin away from Eder Balanta as he charged into the box.
If anything, Lukaku was guilty of holding on to the ball for too long, allowing goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik to rush off his line and block.
The loose ball was played to Blind, who crossed to Marouane Fellaini and his goalbound header was cleared off the line by Manuel Akanji. It was one of three headers from Fellaini that could have given United a firsthalf lead.
Zlatan Warming up as a sub
When Blind swung in a freekick after Matteo Darmian had been fouled, he flashed an effort wide of the near post.
Then, just before half-time, a more subtle attempt from Anthony Martial’s cross saw the ball brush off that mop of black hair and against the outside of the post.
Rojo also hit the woodwork during a brief United flurry before the interval when his long-range effort took a deflection off Marek Suchy and rattled the bar.
Martial raced clear of two defenders and tried to finish from a tight angle but was denied by Vaclik at his near post. At one point, the scoreboard flashed up 3-1 to United. They would have deserved it, but had to be satisfied with a goalless first half. That all changed, however.
No sooner had Lukaku headed wide from an excellent cross from Martial than Basle began to find space and opportunities in front of goal.
Blind had struggled with the pace of Lang and Mohamed Elyounoussi in the first half and now it was Steffen’s turn to torment the static United left back.
United goalkeeper Sergio Romero had to get down quickly to his left and Steffen then cut inside Blind before curling a shot past the far post.
Lang headed against the bar from a difficult angle in the 67th minute and Basle then had a penalty appeal turned down by Italian referee Daniele Orsato for Rojo’s challenge on Steffen.
There was nothing wrong with the timing of the Argentine’s tackle on Oberlin soon after, however, as he slid in to make a brilliant block on the Basle No 19’s shot.
But it was Rojo’s foul that indirectly led to Basle’s late winner as St-Jakob Park erupted.
Their team had repeated their 1-0 win over Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2013 and a famous 2-1 victory over United two years earlier.
That result proved fatal to Sir Alex Ferguson’s hopes of reaching the knockout stage then, but this loss is less likely to be that damaging,