With the season well and truly in it’s stride, it was time for Champion’s League football to return to Old Trafford, playing host to Swiss side FC Basel, noted for their coach who was involved that faithful night in Barcelona when Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich in dramatic fashion to secure an unforgettable treble. After a stern test provided by Benfica away, it was expected that United would have little trouble in taking victory from a Basel side that had so far struggled to make an impact in their own league. Oh how events panned out so differently. Basel came in with a positive game plan, catching United out looking confident on the ball and generally looking the more dangerous of the sides in the early moments. It was United, however, who struck first, twice in two minutes in fact with Danny Welbeck finding the same corner in quick succession. The first was a scuffed effort that was hit with his left and came off his right as it trickled into the right low corner. The second was a much cleaner and more impressive goal, as good play from Giggs across the box found the young striker as he struck first time low at the near post merely a minute after opening the scoring. Despite these efforts, it could well have been the travelling side to be winning going into half time, being let through the defence with consummate ease, finding themselves on goal on more occasions than Sir Alex Ferguson will have been comfortable with. Unfortunately, the half time break failed to improve the situation, with Basel seemingly growing in confidence, with Frei proving a constant danger, forcing a good save from David De Gea with his feet. Eventually, the danger paid off, when from a corner, after another strong save from De Gea, Fabian Frei finished strongly to bring his side back into the game. Shortly after, it was Alexander Frei, leaping from Fabian’s cross to head home strongly and draw the game level. The drama was not to stop there when sloppy clearing from Phil Jones, added more pressure in the box, causing Valencia to concede a penalty trying to win the ball back, with Alexander Frei dispatching the spot kick emphatically. With Nani and Berbatov brought on to try and rescue the game, United went in search of an equaliser in front of a shell-shocked Old Trafford. Luckily, Nani and Ashley Young spared their side’s blushes, with Nani sending in a superb delivery to find Young at the far post and head home, to rescue what many will believe to be an undeserved point with a final score of 3-3. After such a roller coaster evening of European football, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Defensive frailties were exposed far too easily
Throughout the game, until taking the lead, Basel seemed to find ways through gaps in the defence with relative ease. On plenty of occasions they were able to make their way through and get through on goal, catching out the back four’s sloppiness but initially failing to punish United for their failings. There are a few reasons for this. Rio Ferdinand did not seem to take control of the back four the way he should have as the experienced member. Considering the youth of Phil Jones partnering him, although he has been superb in his start to life at United, in a Champion’s League game some more guidance would have been warranted. Some may feel this contributed to a back line lacking solidity and all too often getting caught out by a confident and positive Basel. Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed, problems that may ease up when defensive talisman, Nemanja Vidic returns from injury. In truth there have been warning signs at other times during the season, a notable example being against Chelsea who were relentless in attack after going behind at Old Trafford.
2) Fabio Da Silva – great going forward, needs to back track
Another area where United may have been a little exposed is in the right back area. Fabio Da Silva looked threatening and dangerous going forward, possessing plenty of flair and could well have found himself assisting or indeed scoring a goal himself such was his eagerness to get forward. However, unlike more experienced full backs such as Evra, it could be argued that Da Silva was not quick enough in getting back to cover his area, causing issues that Valencia will have had to help in rectifying. Of course this was not the main issue with United’s defending on the evening, which at times was extremely sloppy, but some may feel that the potential for being exposed further may have occurred here. Overall, it was a positive performance for the young Brazilian, coming back from injury getting forward well, although it appeared he took another knock later in the second half, being replaced by Nani with Valencia dropping back into his place.
3) Danny Welbeck – injury has not held him back
Some may have wondered what would happen to Welbeck when he pulled up with a hamstring injury some weeks ago. Some thought with Hernandez returning and Rooney on fire that he would fall down the pecking order and see less action than his initial start may have warranted. However, with injuries to both Rooney and Hernandez coinciding with his return to fitness, it appears that Welbeck finds himself with starting opportunities once again, and indeed that choice paid off with what I, and hopefully others, believe was the best performance on the night. Up front on his own, until Berbatov’s introduction, he provided a constant threat and target up front, showing great control and a strong burst of pace. Although his first goal was slightly mishit it was still well taken and his second was a fine finish from a good delivery. Given more game time at United and if he continues to score in the way he has done so far this season, as well as staying injury free and getting a good run, he may well find himself with a deserved England place soon.
4) Basel were simply better than many thought they would be
Amongst all the complaining about United’s defensive issues on Tuesday night, one also has to admit that the Swiss side simply played very well. They came to Old Trafford and were not intimidated, playing with a confidence and attacking mentality that is rarely seen, or allowed against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. From early on they passed the ball around with confidence and worked their way into good positions. Most will concede that United were lucky not to half come away without any points in a game that saw Basel create many chances to put themselves ahead. At the same time, fans and indeed Sir Alex Ferguson will be deeply disappointed that their side was unable to see out a victory after taking a commanding position with a 2 goal lead.
5) The referee – forever in the way
Normally complaining about the referee is something that I feel should be avoided in this piece, simply because although decisions may be wrong from time to time, complaining about them each week would be repetitive and pointless. However, although some decisions were questionable from the Italian referee on a summery Tuesday evening, that is not the main issue that is being noted. It appeared that, especially in the latter stages, that he was simply too slow to get out of the way or was constantly interfering in play. Far too often we would see the ball come towards him, only for him to react slowly in moving away or getting in the way of a pass intended for someone behind him. Although unintentional it could be argued this happened on one too many occasions. I am not going to claim he influenced the result due to this, merely an observation in failing to react to ongoing play.