Manchester United make the most of their European return

Manchester United’s return to the Champions League was worth the wait.

After 21 months without the lights and the glamour and that ethereal anthem, Manchester United returned to the top table of European football and promptly had their fill.

In the days leading up to the start of the campaign, Manchester United’s stars had expressed their own personal delight at being back in the competition. Several players took to social media to express their excitement and anticipation.

Juan Mata took to Twitter and encapsulated the moment simply, but superbly. It was now just time for the football.

When kick-off did finally arrive, United took to their task impressively. They started with real intensity and pace and there was a confidence among the players that demonstrated the kind of excitement that midfielder Paul Pogba had spoken about just days before.

In an exclusive interview with United Review, Pogba waxed lyrical about the Champions League, speaking enthusiastically about his personal motivations to return to the competition and his excitement at the prospect of hearing that music play at Old Trafford.

“Obviously, I came to Manchester United to play in the Champions League.

“I knew, last season, when I signed and came back here, that I would be playing in the Europa League. So the objective was to win that to obviously go back into the Champions League. That’s what we did and I’m very happy. Now we’re just back in it and back to the best cup competition in the world.

“We have a group now and people say it is an easy one for us in the Champions League. But the Champions League is never easy. You have got to play against teams who want to beat Manchester United. We’re just back in it, though, and want to prove to the world that we belong in that competition.

“The difference is it’s still big in the Europa League and you still play very good teams, but maybe not the biggest clubs. Now, in the Champions League, we could play Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Barcelona – those teams who all won the trophy many times. I would say that is where we want to play.

“To be honest, I missed it [the anthem]. I missed it a lot last season. Just to hear it again kind of pushed me on to give the best. Obviously, when you hear that music, you just have goosebumps coming. You are excited. Everybody is excited – the fans and the players! It’s the best thing you can play in.”

When asked what it would mean to make his first appearance in the Champions League for Manchester United, Pogba’s response was a predictable one, but one spoken with pride as he reflected on the significance of the moment.

“It’s true, it’s the first one so it’s a very proud one for me and I will remember it all my life.”

Unfortunately for Pogba, his night was over before it really got started. Captain for the evening, the French midfielder tweaked his hamstring and had to be replaced in the 18th minute. A night he might remember for the rest of his life, but for all the wrong reasons.

Thankfully for Pogba and United, his teammates on the pitch maintained their early momentum and ran out comfortable winners over a poor Basel side. Marouane Fellaini scored the first with a powerful header, Romelu Lukaku matched that feat in the second half to score his first Champions League goal, and Marcus Rashford came off the bench to add to his unique record of goalscoring debuts. The teenager has now scored in his first match in the Europa League, Premier League, Manchester derby, FA Cup and the Champions League. He’s also scored on his England debut, for what it’s worth.

Last night’s victory over Basel wasn’t anything particularly special. It was a routine win over inferior opposition on a night when they didn’t have to be at their best to secure the three points. But there was added excitement and added significance as the night wore on. Such an ordinary night felt normal. It felt right. It felt exactly how being back in the Champions League should feel.


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