By Harry Ogilvie
- United open Champions League campaign with three goals and three points
- Fellaini, Lukaku and Rashford on the scoresheet
- United loose Pogba to suspected hamstring injury
Manchester United were back in the Champions League for the first time in what feels like forever. As the Champions League song rang around the ground, the camera panned along the United starting team.
Jose Mourinho opted for a completely new back four to the Stoke game on Saturday. The defence consisted of David De Gea, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and of course, Victor Lindelof.
This was the Swede’s first appearance of the season since the Super Cup final against Real Madrid. Lindelof was partnered by Smalling against a Basel side United fans knew little about.
The two holding midfielders remained the same as the weekend: Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. The front four featured Mata, Mkhitaryan, Martial and an on-form, Romelu Lukaku.
This was as predicted a strong, attacking side which is no less than what United fans were expecting. Manchester United from the first minute looked comfortable, confident and purposeful.
The best opportunity of the opening exchanges came from Mkhitaryan who hit the post from close range then had his rebound saved.
It was a beautiful move from United, with Lindelof starting it with an elegant floated ball into the chest of Lukaku who knocked the ball inside for Mkhitaryan.
Pogba Departs, Enter Fellaini
The chances continued to flow until the game stopped when Pogba appeared to go down holding his hamstring. This was a sight all United fans would undoubtedly feared to see before the game. However, this was very much a reality.
The lanky Frenchman ended up hobbling off the pitch and straight down the tunnel. He was replaced by another tall, French speaking baller, Marouane Fellaini.
Pogba’s replacement quickly made a nuisance of himself by getting on the end of an inch perfect cross from Ashley Young to make it 1-0 United.
One of the few players remaining from the Fergie era. This was Young’s first start since Swansea last April and was an impressive one.
The sides went in 1-0 at the break with Manchester United very much the dominant side.
The play appeared to be quite comfortably controlled by the United midfield and chances being made regularly by the front four despite the loss of Pogba.
Lukaku Makes It Two
United began the second half, just as they finished the second, with clear attacking intent. Romelu Lukaku quickly doubled their lead less than 10 minutes into the second half.
Blind, who has recently been criticised for his poor delivery, whipped in a sublime cross which left Lukaku to power the ball home from close range.
The clinical Belgian nearly grabbed his second goal of the night in the 63rd minute when he had another header saved by Basel keeper’, Vaclík.
Basel created very little themselves, however United’s sloppiness, gave them their first good opportunity to shoot at De Gea’s goal. Fortunately for Mourinho, De Gea came to the rescue to parry the ball over the bar.
United appeared to take their foot off the gas as the clock hit the 70 minute mark.
Mourinho’s men continued to dominate the ball and both sides began to make their changes with Rashford and Lingard coming on for United, to replace Mata and Martial.
Rashford Wraps Up The Three Points
Substitute, Marcus Rashford quickly made it 3-0 five minutes after coming on. The youngster scuffed the ball into the roof of the net after a incisive ball from Lukaku, through to Fellaini who knocked the ball inside for Rashford to finish.
“Our Kid” has now scored on his Europa League debut, Premier League debut, FA Cup debut, League Cup debut, England under 21 debut, England senior squad debut and now his Champions League debut.
This is an exceptional feat that few players can boast.
After Paul Pogba went off, United required a big performance from Marouane Fellaini when he replaced him. Mourinho needed him to go on and dominate the midfield, the way Pogba has done this season.
Thankfully, Fellaini played a blinder and proved anyone who doubted him wrong.
The 31 year old was brilliant once he got on, causing havoc in the box, controlling the midfield with Matic as well as winning the ball in the air and making 2 successful interceptions.
Fellaini scored arguably the most important goal of the game, breaking the deadlock and forcing Basel to come out and attack United, allowing his side to find more space in promising positions.
Romelu Lukaku was another who had a fantastic game. Fellaini’s fellow Belgian did everything that was asked of him: scored, held the ball up, brought others into play and considering it was his Champions League debut, he had an all round great game.
It is obvious Lukaku has worked on his game to ensure he can play at the level of previous world class number nines. The striker has evidently improved his close control and passing, in addition to keeping his clinical finishing sharp and accurate.
Victor Lindelof was another making his Manchester United, Champions League debut. Lindelof’s distribution is what impressed me most, attempting 75 passes, completing 93% of them.
The centre back also played one key pass, in addition to the several aerial battles he won and clearances he made.
Ashley Young also deserves a mention after a solid performance in his first appearance of the season after picking up an injury late last season. The Englishman swung in a sublime cross for the opening goal.
Did everything required of him defensively and put in several dangerous crosses after the Fellaini goal.
The Manager’s View
Jose Mourinho appeared pleased with his side’s victory saying “three points are important when you start the group phase at home. Until 2-0 we were very stable and played with confidence.”
However, he was not entirely pleased by any means. “After 2-0 we stopped playing, we stopped thinking on the pitch and could have put ourselves in trouble.”
“We made bad decisions and played fantasy football, playstation football. I don’t like that, it is a gamble.” Reflecting on the game he said “Overall the performance was solid.”
The boss admired the performance of Fellaini saying: “He is a player with special qualities, he gives me multiple areas of cover and philosophy on the pitch.” “He is one of my most important players, even if he doesn’t start every week.”
He followed this up with praise for Young: “Ashley gave us what Antonio would give us. I felt he could do the job perfectly and he did it.”
When asked about the Pogba injury, he said: “I haven’t spoken with the medical department, this is why we have a squad, we won’t cry about injuries.” There will be “No Paul on Sunday.”
Another game for Mourinho’s men, another win and another clean sheet. This would have been the perfect start to Manchester United’s Champions League campaign, had star player, Paul Pogba avoided injury.
This will definitely make this victory less satisfying for most United fans especially considering the amount of fixtures United have coming up. Despite this, Mourinho will expect his side to pick up wins in all their upcoming games with or without Pogba.
Everton on Sunday without Paul Pogba will be Manchester United’s next test of the 2017/18 campaign. Reds should still be confident with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan available for selection.