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Tactical Tidbits: In form strikers key against FC Basel

Manchester United have seen this team before, and it wasn’t pretty. In 2011, United had one of its most disastrous Champions League campaigns under Sir Alex Ferguson. Highlighted by their 2-1 loss away to FC Basel in Switzerland. Along with Benfica, Basel would move on from the group and leave United behind them.

Flash forward six years and United will once again be in a group with Benfica and FC Basel. But the Swiss side are the only ones they will battle on Tuesday. The upcoming clash will also mark Manchester United and manager Jose Mourinho’s return to the Champions League. With the Portuguese boss hoping to become the first ever manager to win three champions league trophies with three different teams. But that is a way off yet. Instead, let’s focus on what United have right in front of them and analyze three key battles the Red Devils must win to take down FC Basel

In-form strikers

Romelu Lukaku’s has been exceptional to start his Manchester United career. He has scored five goals in five competitive games for his new club and has given them an injection of pace and power they desperately needed. On the other side, Basel’s new striker hasn’t been too bad himself. A complete failure while at Norwich, Ricky van Wolfswinkel arrived in Switzerland after a brief stay at Vitesse in the Netherlands. He’s introduced himself to his new club by scoring seven goals in his first six games.

With the two men spearheading the attack for their respective clubs both in scintillating form, it’s imperative for United to get the upper hand. If you remember van Wolfwinkel from his time in England, you may not fear him as a threat. Don’t do that. The 28-year-old is entering the prime of his career and his finishing in Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland have all shown that his time in England was nothing more than a brief low point. If United are going to get off to a good start to their Champions League campaign, then they must win the battle of in-form strikers.

Maintaining Defensive Solidity

The last time FC Basel defeated Manchester United Chris Smalling was at centre-back and struggled on both goals. Six years later, Jose Mourinho has made it clear that both he and Victor Lindelof will be starting on Tuesday evening in Manchester. With the first choice pairing of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones both suspended, a solid partnership between both Smalling and Lindelöf will be key to victory.

This is especially the case when it comes to United’s offside trap. While United have been very strong at the back since Mourinho arrived, and have only allowed three goals in five competitive fixtures this season, two of those goals both came after a defender played an attacker onside. Lindelöf and Smalling will need to be in sync against a FC Basel team who loves to get in behind the defense. This is one of van Wolfwinkel’s greatest threats. The striker’s movement is very impressive and he is far from a stagnant target man. Putting all the more pressure on United’s center-backs to get their positioning right.

Breaking down the defence

FC Basel are an absolute powerhouse in Switzerland, having won the Swiss League in each of the last seven seasons. However, under new boss Raphael Wicky, Basel has struggled to start the season. Two draws were followed up by a 2-1 loss against bottom dwellers Lausanne. To expect them to come to Old Trafford in the Champions League and play attacking football would be unwise. Instead, expect them to bunker and rely on their solid center-back paring of Marek Suchy, and former wunderkind Eder Balanta to keep the game close.

Last seasons United struggled to break down teams who’ve bunkered, especially in Manchester. While United did return to the 4-3-3 against Stoke, expect a return to a 4-2-3-1 against Basel. This would allow United to flood the attacking third with playmakers and pace. Juan Mata’s ability to ghost in behind the most formidable of defenses could be an important trait, but the fullbacks will play a very important role. With no natural wingers, United often become far too narrow. Fullbacks need to get forward and, most importantly, provided dangerous service for Lukaku and his attacking cohort to feed off. If United can do this, then Basel will likely see their poor run of form continue.

Most of Manchester United’s players weren’t at the club when Basel last defeated them six years ago. However, that doesn’t mean a demon doesn’t need to be exercised. In order to do so, United must put their disappointing result against Stoke behind them and return to their high-flying form. If they do, then United fans can expect the magic of the Champions League to be alive and well at Old Trafford.

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