When you think of Manchester United and crucial Champions League games, you normally think of the knockout rounds, right? That is indeed usually the case, but tonight, United are in Switzerland to face Basel, with the knowledge that defeat will send them crashing out of the competition and into the Europa League. There’s no pressure there, no pressure at all…
Part of the reason tonight’s tie is so important is because of how things transpired when these two met at Old Trafford in September.
United led 2-0 inside the first 20 minutes thanks to two goals in two minutes by Danny Welbeck. Game over, right? Not quite. Basel pulled one back in the 58th minute through Fabian Frei, and on the hour mark, they were level through Alexander Frei.
Then the unthinkable happened, as United conceded a penalty, and the latter Frei slotted it home to give Basel a shock 76th-minute lead. However, they were not to leave Old Trafford with a stunning victory, as Ashley Young equalized in the 90th minute to at least somewhat spare United’s blushes.
1. Basel started their season with a 1-3-2 mark in their first six league matches, but they’re 10-1-0 in their last 11 league matches, and they’re 16-2-1 in their last 19 matches in all competitions, with the lone defeat being a 2-0 home defeat against likely Group C winner Benfica in October.
Currently, Basel are on a seven-match win streak in the league and are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions since the defeat to Benfica, and they‘re six points clear of Luzern at the top of the Swiss Super League table.
2. Basel are led in scoring by Alexander Frei, who’s still banging them in with ease at 32. Frei has 11 league goals in 16 matches, four in four Champions League matches, and two in two Swiss Cup matches.
3. Basel earned their draw at Old Trafford without teenage star – and reported United target – Xherdan Shaqiri, who was suspended for the match. But he’ll be in the lineup tonight, and he’s someone United’s defense will have to keep a close eye on from start to finish.
1. United are unbeaten in their last eight Champions League away matches since a 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in a quarterfinal tie in April 2009.
And United haven’t lost a Champions League group game since a 1-0 defeat at Celtic in November 2006. Since then, United are 10-4-0 away from home in the group stage.
2. United’s home draws against Basel and Benfica can be partly attributed to the absence of Nemanja Vidic, who missed the draw against Basel through injury and the draw against Benfica through suspension. But he’ll be manning the middle tonight, and that should translate into a strong defensive performance for United.
Due to injury (and to the two-match Champions League suspension), Vidic has made only seven league appearances and one Champions League appearance for United this season. In those eight matches, United have surrendered only two goals. One was a very, very soft goal at West Brom, on a shot that should have been dealt with by David de Gea, and the other was via the penalty that wasn’t against Newcastle.
3. United won’t be settling for a 0-0 draw tonight, you can be sure of that, but whoever’s creating and taking chances tonight needs to finish the night upright, because forward options have been dropping like flies.
Michael Owen was already set to be out until at least Christmas, but United are now without Javier Hernandez for the next month after he suffered an ankle injury at Aston Villa on Saturday, and Dimitar Berbatov didn’t make the trip to Switzerland due to an ankle knock. Speaking of knocks, it’d be wise to knock on some wood right now, because United can ill-afford anymore bad luck on the injury front.
Tonight won’t be easy, but these are the kinds of situations United thrive in.
No score prediction again, but all signs point to United being able to get at least the minimum result required. That being said, a win would be ideal, as it’d give United a chance to win the group if Benfica fail to win at home against Otelul Galati, and to produce a quality performance to earn a crucial result would be a fantastic way to close what hasn‘t been the best of group stages for United.
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