With just one defeat in the last 33 Champions League ties at home, Old Trafford is something of a fortress. Tomorrow, FC Basel are welcomed for their second visit, eight and a half years after their first – a game they managed to draw 1-1. Winning home group games is a ‘must’ for United as they look to get beyond the group stages for a sixth consecutive season. The build-up has hardly been ideal though, injuries mean that plenty of first team players will miss the tie and after a hard game against Stoke at the weekend having the personnel available to rotate the team and bring in fresh players would be the perfect scenario. As it is, United will still field a strong side and hope to get their first win in this year’s competition.
Basel were crowned Swiss champions again last year, a sixth triumph in the past ten years. Ever keen to strengthen, players such as Park Joo-Ho and Radoslav Kováč joined – the latter having had a spell in the Premier League with West Ham. However, Basel are famous for having the best academy in Switzerland, and they share a similar ethos to United – they’d rather give their own academy products a chance first before signing players.
Basel don’t have much Champions League history – the furthest they’ve progressed in the competition was the second group stage in 2002 – that kick-started a golden era of national dominance for them having been uncompetitive for nearly 25 years prior. To make the group stages this year they didn’t have to play any qualifiers.
Their star man is Xherdan Shaqiri but he misses the game through suspension. With Shaqiri missing, talent spotters will no doubt have a keen eye on Granit Xhaka instead. Xhaka will be 19 on match-day and already has two full international caps. He was part of the Swiss U21 side that made the final of the Euro U21 tournament this summer in Norway. Like Shaqiri he is confident, quick and not afraid of physical confrontation. Whilst Shaqiri’s game is more about skill and quick feet, Xhaka’s more of an all rounder, able to tackle and score. United should look to press him and force him into quick decision – an area of his game he’s not totally comfortable with yet.
Basel will be lead upfront by an experienced master of goalscoring. Alexander Frei’s league record everywhere he’s been works out at nearly a goal every other game. In fact, since his return to Basel in 2009, he’s scored at better than a goal every other game with 48 in 64 league games. His record extends to international football too with 42 goals in 84 games – impressive considering he’s more often than not been involved in a rather average Swiss team. Frei’s never been blessed with pace but he’s a handful in the air – something that United will have to be wary of from set pieces.
How do they play?
Basel typically line up in a standard 4-4-2 formation with wingers who like to cut inside. It seems likely that they’ll go a bit more defensive tomorrow – many teams in Europe come and play a 4-5-1 with the aim of frustrating United and trying to sneak a draw. Basel’s side is not laced with too much pace so they may play deep to try and compensate and not be caught on the break.
United’s early season form has been very good- five league wins from six, a Carling Cup win and a draw away to Benfica in their opening Champions League game is solid. Goals have been coming quite easily for United with Nani, Rooney and Hernandez all looking dangerous early on. On Saturday afternoon United drew at Stoke – a physical battle that took plenty out of the side. With that in mind and a game against Norwich to come at the weekend, Fergie may rotate the team again.
Like United, Basel could only draw away from home at the weekend, 1-1 at FC Thun saw them slip to 4th – they’re already 8 points off the leaders, Lucerne. Scoring’s not been a problem for Basel, they’ve scored 23 goals which is more than any other side, however they also concede more than one goal a game (13 conceded in 10 league games). Two goals from Frei helped Basel to a 2-1 win over SC Otelul Galati in their opening group game and sees them top the table after one round.
United have a growing list of missing men – Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Rafael, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling all miss out. Michael Carrick is back though, as is Danny Welbeck. Only 19 players took part in training today, including just four defenders – Fabio, Jones, Ferdinand and Evra.
Basel will be missing both Xherdan Shaqiri and Benjamin Huggel through suspension.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
Without disrespecting Basel, Fergie is likely to treat this game as an opportunity to rotate his squad – giving minutes to those who need them and resting those who are likely to play at the weekend against Norwich. At home in Europe a 4-4-2 is the formation of choice, particularly given the number of strikers currently available for selection.
David de Gea missed out against Benfica and whilst Lindegaard may get another chance, it seems likely that de Gea will play in front of the Old Trafford crowd for the first time on a European night. With only four fit defenders one would think the back four will pick itself, however I think at least one will be rested. Fabio is likely to come in and I’ve chosen to rest Evra. If Carrick is fit, he may well come in for Ferdinand too. Valencia continues at right back, providing a very attacking option down the right hand side.
The midfield four is likely to see Park and Giggs come in, it’s just a case of who’s rested. As in Benfica, I think Nani and Anderson may have to settle for places on the bench. Ashley Young could be in line for his first ever Champions League appearance. Giggs should be used as the playmaker – his latest new ability seems to be to find space easily between the opposition lines, something United have needed for a little while.
In the striking department it’s any two from Berbatov, Welbeck, Macheda, Owen and Diouf. It seems likely Welbeck will start as he needs the minutes post-injury; I’ve paired him with Berbatov who’ll been keen to make more of an impact than he did at Stoke. However I’d like to see Diouf start as I think he deserves the chance having worked so hard in the Reserves this season and scoring goals. Similarly, despite his poor showing at Leeds, Macheda should be played in his rightful striking position rather than out on the wing – he and Welbeck had a great understanding and partnership in the academy, it would be good to see that in the first team.
History and last meeting:
The two sides have only ever met twice before in the 2002/03 season. United won 3-1 away from home with two goals from Van Nistelrooy and one from Solskjaer – Ruud scoring one of his best United goals that night, sidestepping one defender before finishing from a ridiculously acute angle. An already qualified Man United side then drew the second game that season against Basel 1-1 at Old Trafford; Gary Neville getting a rare goal.
This really should be straightforward for United; even with injuries and a rotated team the side should be too strong for Basel. The losses of Xherdan Shaqiri and Benjamin Huggel are big for Basel, both would have almost certainly started. Strength in depth for United should come to the fore and with that in mind I will predict a routine 2-0 win for the Reds.
Paolo Tagliavento – he’s a qualified hairdresser!
Quick opposition fact:
Basel’s manager, Thorsten Fink, was the man who came on to replace Lothar Matthaus with the score at 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
Sir Alex Ferguson: “I think the Champions League is the best competition in the world now. It’s better than the World Cup, better than the European Championships. It’s a fantastic tournament. This is not a golden period for us because we’ve lost two of those finals. I think we’ve been consistent in the Champions League and our away form has been outstanding. But we hope we can do better this year and win it. That’s the aim of this club all the time.”
Sir Alex Ferguson on Berbatov: “He’s one of our squad members and they all have a part to play in the context of the number of games you have in the Premier League, the Champions League, the League Cup and FA Cup. It’s an exhausting season unless you use your squad. I don’t need to reassure Dimitar. He knows he’s a part of the squad and that applies to many players here at this moment in time. Federico Macheda, Mame Diouf and Michael Owen haven’t played regularly either but Saturday’s game was only our sixth in the league and we’ve had the Benfica and Leeds matches. So it’s still early doors. There’s plenty of time.”
Ashley Young on potentially making his Champions League debut: “When you come to a club like Manchester United, you are going to be challenged. I am definitely someone who wants to challenge myself at the top level and being able to play in the big competitions at club level is every boy’s dream.”
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