Date: 26th September 2011 at 8:15pm
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The champions of England looking to be champions of Europe again

Tuesday night sees the return of Champions League football to Old Trafford for the first time this season, as the reds take on Swiss league champions FC Basel.

Basel visit Old Trafford for the first time since March 2003, where they managed to come away with a point in a 1-1 draw in the second group stages of the Champions League.  Gary Neville scored a rare goal in that one to equalise Gimenez’s 14th minute strike, and eight years later, the visitors come here as Group C leaders, after beating Otelil Galati 2-1 in the opening game whilst we were held at Benfica.

So, what side will Sir Alex pick for this one…?

He’s already stated that in these stages, he’ll choose Anders Lindergaard in goal, so despite David De Gea giving a stunning performance away at Stoke, the Dane is likely to make his second appearance of the season.

He’ll line up behind something of a patched together side though, as injuries give the boss a selection headache.

Confirmed to be missing are Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidic, Rafael, Tom Cleverley, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney.  With that, Valencia is a pretty certain starter at right back, with Phil Jones partnering Rio Ferdinand in the centre of defence.  Nani, Anderson, Carrick and Young are likely to take the midfield spots, with Berbatov and Michael Owen my choice of front pairing.

Danny Welbeck will be itching for a start after returning to fitness, and Darren Fletcher is slowly returning to form after injury – but may be rested for this one.

Our opponents

Basel currently sit in fourth position in the Swiss league, with ten games played.  They’ve clocked up four wins, four draws and two defeats, scoring 11 goals in their last three league games.  Alexander Frei has bagged six goals for them this season, including a hatrick against FC Lausanne-Sport in a 6-0 win on 21st September, and Marco Strellar has scored in each of Basel’s last three games.

They’re managed by Thorsten Fisk, who many reds will remember as the substitute for the cock-sure Lothar Matthaus of Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.  He has a few injury worries ahead of the game himself, with Valentin Stocker, Gilles Yapi and Genseric Kasunga missing for them.

They signed Radoslav Kovac from West Ham United in the summer, and with 21 appearences in the Champions League behind him, he’s the most experienced player in this competition in the Basel squad.  Consider that against Ryan Giggs’ experience with 127 appearences, and Patrice Evra about to make his 70th appearence in the competition, and the gulf between the two sides starts to look clear.

Xherdan Shaqiri completes a two-game ban on matchday two, when Benjamin Huggel is also suspended following his red card in the opening game.

Ref watch

Picked to officiate Tuesday’s game is Italian referee Paolo Tagliavento.  The 39 year old hairdresser has been a Serie A official since 2003/04, and taking charge of European matches a season later.  He Took charge of his first UEFA Champions League group-stage game in December 2010, between Arsenal FC and FK Partizan, and finished the campaign with three games at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Denmark, including Spain’s final defeat of Switzerland.

He took charge of the Europa League clash between Heart of Midlothian and Tottenham Hotspur, showing three yellow cards during the game, and sent off Moreleo of Bologna in their recent 3-1 home defeat to Inter Milan.

The outcome of this one…

When United are at home in Europe, that special feeling is there in the stadium, and with seven wins in our nine competetive games this season, and scoring in our last 14 matches, the odds are stacked towards a victory for the reds.  Basel have never won on English soil, and with United scoring 22 goals in the first six matches of the season, I see United, despite being somewhat depleted, having more than enough quality to comfortably beat Basel, despite them being a decent outfit.

Lets also remember that we’ve only lost one of our last 32 Uefa Champions League matches at Old Trafford, and with the faithful getting behind the team from the start, let’s hope we finish the game as the new leaders of Group C.

Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.

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