Report: Belgian double secures comfortable opener for Mourinho’s European dream

UEFA Champions League football returned to Old Trafford this evening as Jose Mourinho and his side faced the Swiss side, FC Basel. The visitors were without a win in their previous eight games in Europe before this evenings tie and the Europa League winners set out to make it nine in the pouring Manchester rain. The home side were confident going into the match but knew underestimating the Swiss side would be foolish, to say the least.

Things started brightly for the home side as they looked to break out a seemingly defensive minded Basel side. Within the first three minutes, United carved out their first opportunity of the game. Romelu Lukaku finding himself in all kinds of space in the 18-yard-box but the Belgian striker failed to hit the target and any promises of an early breakthrough were dashed. But United started brightly and had the lions share of the possession and always looked the most likely to be the ones to break the deadlock. Until the seventh minute, when the visitors finally made headway in the attacking third, winning a corner off the legs of Ashley Young.

The next bright spark happened in the 13th minute as Juan Mata and Ashley Young linked up beautifully to carve out another opportunity. Intricate play was the theme of the first half for Manchester United as fans were treated to plenty of glimpses of the fine understanding the players have carved out under the tutelage of Mourinho. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the main protagonist, and he was guilty of spurning the next chance for the home side after Lukaku, Martial, and Juan Mata all combined to give the Armenian a simple header that he couldn’t direct anywhere but over the crossbar. Lukaku’s turn was next as he fired a shot straight at the midriff of the keeper. 17 minutes in and there was some concern around the Manchester United bench. Paul Pogba overstretched in a challenge with Elyounoussi and seemed to tweak his hamstring. The captain for the evening tried to put a brave face on it but his night was done as Marouane Fellaini entered the fray.

The change didn’t seem to affect the rhythm as United continued to stroll through the action seemingly never coming out of 2nd gear. Lukaku and Mkhitaryan linked up again in the 22nd minute, with the former laying it on a plate only for the midfielder to strike the post and then limply pass the ball into the grasp of the keeper. Mkhitaryan again was involved in the first booking of the game for Eder Balanta whose strong tackle in the middle of the park called the referee into action. Then finally a real opportunity for the Swiss side as the ball fell to Zuffi in the area only for him to lash his left-footed effort well wide.

In the 35th minute, a break through. Ashley Young had the ball played out to him on the right-hand side and with a shimmy he opened up the space and found his cross, the substitute Fellaini attacked it and got his just rewards as he saw his free header nestle comfortably into the back of the net. Young was involved again minutes later as he received his yellow card for a seemingly fair tackle on Riveros. The resulting free kick allowed Elyounoussi a go with a free header from Xhaka’s ball, but it was straight at David De Gea.

The second half started in much the same way as Manchester United looked to attack their counterparts. It was, however, Ricky van Wolfswinkel who had the first opportunity to threaten an opposition goal as he latched onto a ball from Akanji to force Victor Lindelof into some rare defensive action. Van Wolfswinkel had another opportunity not long after, but poor control let him down. Normality was restored though as Anthony Martial – who impressed greatly this evening – weaved his way through two defenders before finding a shot on target that was fumbled by goalkeeper Vaclik for a corner. Played short, Daley Blind delivered a ball on a plate to Lukaku who headed expertly past Vaclik to give the hosts a seemingly insurmountable two goal lead.

Daley Blind was next in the referees book and was shortly followed by the Basel Right Back Lang who had endured a torrid evening at the feet of Anthony Martial. Lukaku missed his fourth shot of the game as he headed tamely into the floor for the Basel goalkeeper to palm away with ease. United let their concentration dip as the impressive Elyounoussi beat his man in the area only to see his shot saved brilliantly by the redundant de Gea. Marouane Fellaini carved out another opportunity this time for Anthony Martial just after the hour mark, the Frenchman fluffed his lines with his last action of the game.

With 13 minutes to go, Jose Mourinho played his last card and threw on Marcus Rashford for his Champions League debut. A speculative free kick from 35+ yards flew a good 10 feet over the bar, but after Taulant Xhaka received a yellow card for a cynical foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, United built another attack. The two resident Belgians combined and Marouane Fellaini pulled a dangerous ball (with the aid of a deflection) across the box. Mkhitaryan miscued but arriving was Marcus Rashford who bagged himself United’s third and a debut Champions League goal to finish the rout.

Back to winning ways against a poor Basel side will please Mourinho as Unitd’s first Champions League campaign in two years got underway in routine style. At no point did you ever really fear the home side would be on the end of an upset and a commanding win that sees the side top the group is no less than the performance deserved. Done at a canter and without ever stepping out of second gear, Mourinho should be very pleased with how his side played this evening ahead of a tricky game at the weekend against Everton in the Premier League.

Goals: Marouane Fellaini 35′, Romelu Lukaku 53′, Marcus Rashford 84′

Assists: Ashley Young 35′, Daley Blind 53′,

Manchester United: De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Blind; Matic, Pogba (Fellaini 19′); Mata (Rashford 77′), Mkhitaryan, Martial (Lingard 69′); Lukaku

Substitutes Not Used: Romero; Valencia, Darmian; Carrick

Bookings: Ashley Young 38′, Daley Blind 58′


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