Sloppy Manchester United pay the price in Basel
Mourinho’s side now need a result on final day to guarantee group win
Basel’s Michael Lang scores the winner in their Champions League clash with Manchester United. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
Basel 1 Manchester United 0
Disaster struck for Manchester United with less than a minute of normal time left when Michael Lang prodded home to claim a win that, however, could not stop United qualifying before their final Group A game against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford.
José Mourinho’s team sleep-walked through the second half so this defeat was deserved, and a manager who prides himself on ultra-professionalism will not be happy.
Mourinho made seven changes from Saturday’s win over Newcastle United. Those retained were Chris Smalling, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku. Of the players drafted in the most notable were Sergio Romero, who replaced David De Gea, and Marcos Rojo, making a first appearance since the serious knee injury suffered in April.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also hit by the same anterior crucial ligament damage as Rojo in that Europa League tie against Anderlecht. He made his own comeback as a replacement at the weekend and the talismanic No10 again started on the bench.
United began the contest having to soak up Basel pressure. Mohamed Elyounoussi made one darting run that took him into Romero’s area on the right before he ran out of pitch and the ball dribbled away in what would be the pattern of their half.
Mourinho’s side lined up as a 4-1-4-1 that had Ander Herrera in the holding role. Paul Pogba, captain for the evening, was in central midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini. As against Newcastle it was the Frenchman who sparked United into life. His clever ball put Lukaku in and Fellaini’s goal-bound header was eventually cleared by Manuel Akanji. Daley Blind delivered the corner on to Chris Smalling’s head but the effort was weak and rolled to safety.
This presaged United taking hold of the ball and the game for a period. Jesse Lingard, Matteo Darmian, Pogba and Fellaini began to swap quick, incisive passes to move their side down the field. One of these forays dled to a free-kick. Blind swung the ball in on a right-left diagonal where Fellaini would have demanded it, but his header was as profligate as Smalling’s.
Herrera committed the same crime by hitting a regulation pass aimed for Lingard straight to an opponent, and Mourinho shook his head. Raphaël Wicky’s men were again enjoying possession, though were unable to really threaten their visitors.
When they did advance close to Romero – as Michael Lang did as the half hour neared – United closed the door. At the other end Blind took successive corners, from left and right, but nothing came of them.
After Geoffrey Serey Dié fouled Pogba United had a dead-ball position 20 yards out pointed at the centre of Tomas Vaclik’s goal. But Pogba’s attempt missed disappointingly. Equally disappointing was the way Darmian hoofed a cross high into the sky from Jesse Lingard’s neat reverse pass. The ball eventually fell on Blind’s left boot and he proceeded to smack this out when he should have been able to find a team-mate in the area.
United spent the closing moments of a soporific opening 45 minutes watching Oberlin being equally as wasteful from a 30-yard free-kick, Fellaini clip Vaclik’s left post with a close-range header and Martial sprint through from Herrera’s long range pass. He could not finish, though, and after Rojo’s 25-yarder hit Marek Suchy’s head and rebounded off the bar, the teams wandered off with the game goalless.
There was an early scare for United as the second half started when Renato Steffen was allowed time to pick a cross from the right but, again, this lacked quality. Mourinho’s men roved upfield almost instantly. A quick Martial boot-shuffle and Pogba was in but he over-deliberated and the danger passed.
The contest had brightened, though. Darmian conceded a handball on the right and when Suchy’s ball in was headed out by Fellaini, Dié flashed a shot just past Romero’s left post. Next up Elyounoussi tried his luck from around 35 yards but it was a pea-roller that Romero collected easily. Steffen followed this by racing at a back-pedalling United rearguard, yet once more the shot went straight to the visiting goalkeeper.
Romero did have to make a sharp save from an Oberlin flick-on and moments later he was beaten but Steffen’s cross-shot went wide of the right post.
United had lost control and now came a series of Basel chances with Lang’s header off Romero’s bar and Elyounoussi’s spurning of the rebound the first. Mourinho swapped Marcus Rashford for Lingard and Nemanja Matic for Pogba but still Basel came. And, after Mourinho brought on Ibrahimovic for Martial, Lang made his late intervention to leave Basel, along with CSKA, three points behind United. – Guardian service