19:45 KO (BST); Tuesday 12th September; Old Trafford (Manchester, England); BT Sport 2 and BT Sport 4K UHD
A sense of order and normality is restored around Old Trafford as Manchester United make their long-awaited return to Champions League football.
While much of their focus is on the Premier League, the Red Devils will be keen to make an impact in Europe to prove that they belong amongst the elite clubs. They’ve started well domestically and will be keen to carry their goal-scoring form to the European stage.
Swiss champions Basel have had a stuttering start to the season under new coach Raphaël Wicky, but will hope to push that aside. A good result away result here would be a big boost for their goal of qualifying for the last-16.
Despite the gulf in spending power, Basel are no pushovers. Their last visit to Old Trafford in 2011 yielded a 3-3 draw and the reverse home fixture ended in a 2-1 win for the Swiss side. Hence, this opening Group A match promises to be far more intriguing than the form book suggests.
Last time out
Stoke 2—2 MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United faced a resolute Stoke side who exploited their defensive errors to claim a 2-2 draw. It was a tight affair, with Stoke content to sit deep and ask the Red Devils to break them down. A lack of movement, particularly down the left, hampered United’s attacking efforts.
Another goal by Romelu Lukaku reinforced his ability to make his team a more potent force this season. However, Jose Mourinho would be very disappointed at how his usually dependable centre-backs were caught out for both goals, with Eric Bailly losing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for the first and Phil Jones out-muscled at a corner for the second by the same goal-scorer.
These were the games that Mourinho’s charges had trouble finishing last season. A win here against a difficult opponent would have sent a statement of intent to the rest of the league.
FC BASEL 1—2 Lausanne Sports
After drawing the last two league games, the last thing Basel needed the least was a loss to bottom side Lausanne Sports.
Despite home advantage, Basel’s fans had to endure a very disappointing game. Dutch frontman Ricky van Wolfswinkel continued his form, scoring his seventh goal in seven games, but it wasn’t enough.
After being pegged back by a long-range stunner, they succumbed to a soft, late goal that ‘keeper Tomáš Vaclík should have done better to keep out at his near post.
Despite the defeat, Basel are in good shape domestically. However, the manner of the defeat would not have filled Basel with a lot of confidence for their upcoming European tie. The Swiss side needs a win to turn their fortunes around and arrest this slide in form.
Manchester United lineup
Manchester United have no new injury concerns aside from their long-term absentees. Ashley Young and Luke Shaw are back in training but are nowhere near a start.
FC Basel lineup
Alexander Fransson was injured whilst playing for Sweden during the international break. Dimitri Oberlin also missed the last match.
Key Battle: Chris Smalling vs Ricky van Wolfswinkel
If Basel are to have any chance of causing an upset, striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel will be a key figure. With seven goals in seven games, the striker is not short on confidence. He has shown that, despite whatever frailties his team may have, he knows how to find the back of the net.
Suspensions to Eric Bailly and Phil Jones means that Chris Smalling will be tasked to stop the former Norwich striker. Smalling last played in the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid and is yet to feature in a league game that season.
As the senior defender, he will also be tasked with guiding Victor Lindelof, who looked shaky in that same defeat.
As a striker, van Wolfswinkel works hard at closing down his opponents and this could prove problematic for Smalling, given his lack of match sharpness. Smalling has the experience to win this duel, but he will need to be at his best and not underestimate van Wolfswinkel at any cost, or risk being punished.
Under a new coach facing pressure for underwhelming domestic performances, Basel will not arrive in England in the best frame of mind. It is up to Wicky to motivate his players to put in a performance.
A good result can lift the team and help with their league form. A heavy European defeat will not help morale. It is in the Swiss side’s best interest to put up a fighting display against their more illustrious opponents.
Jose Mourinho will be forced to make changes as Jones and Bailly will not be available for selection, but many will look to see if other squad players like Sergio Romero, Marouane Fellaini or Michael Carrick get a start.
Mourinho is not known for rotating his players unnecessarily, but with a tough game against Everton on Sunday, the Portuguese manager might be tempted to bring in other players.
An argument could be made that Mourinho relied too much on the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season. If Mourinho makes further changes and his selection puts in good performances, perhaps he could be persuaded to rotate his squad more.
While this remains unlikely, doing so would leave him better placed to deal with the demands of a long season. However, Mourinho knows too many changes might signal complacency, so he needs to find the right balance.
Attack vs Defence
Despite winning the Europa League last season, United put in laboured performances against sides that were not exactly littered with stardust. Basel are a good European side that know how to frustrate their opponents and are not afraid to get physical.
Jose Mourinho has demanded more from his forwards this season and they need to do their part or face a repeat of last season, where a lack of incisiveness, decisiveness and goals undermined their ambitions.
After a promising start, they need to show consistency.
PREDICTION: Manchester United 2-0 FC Basel
Given enough opportunities, Romelu Lukaku is a tough customer for any defence in the world. United have also been threatening from set-pieces this season and might find joy from corners.
Basel should have an opportunity or two, especially on the counter, but United’s defence should be able to survive any shaky moments they face.
It would not be at all surprising if Manchester United brush Basel aside as they have the firepower to do so, but expect Basel to give it a real go, making it hard for the Red Devils. Even then, United should have enough in their arsenal to see off Basel.
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