In their final match of Group C, Manchester United failed to get the result needed in order to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. We now have to pay the consequences by entering the Europa League due to finishing third in the group, behind Benfica and Basel.
United fans, including ourselves, taunted Liverpool supporters in previous years due to their appearances in that particular competition. Now, we can expect something similar as a result of our Champions League campaign cutting short for the third time in 17 years. Bitter pills to swallow, eh?
The most recent disappointment of this sort was in 2005, when Benfica beat United leaving them bottom of the group. However, in my honest opinion, tonight’s humiliation was much more disastrous but it’s important to have some perspective.
Manchester United didn’t waste much time in the opening minutes and were quick to attack Basel using either wings effectively, especially the right with Nani performing brilliantly throughout. However, after just 9 minutes the hosts took a shock lead thanks to Marco Streller. The goal came from lack of communication at the back with Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling coming together and clashing heads. That left the back four stretched and Streller’s goal ruined our momentum which was in full flow beforehand.
The Reds continued to attack, though, but with less urgency. Ryan Giggs’ passing display was awful and at times it looked like we were hesitant to shoot outside the box. United have been like this since the Newcastle game, creating a number of chances but failing to score. And it’s important to know that this isn’t down to not having a midfielder with a £30million price tag alongside his name. It’s all down to poor and wasteful finishing. Rooney for example, was in an amazing position and all he needed to do was tap the ball in. Instead he scuffed it with the ball ending up moving sideways towards Ji-sung Park, who appeared unaware.
Before half time, United created two decent chances finally testing Basel’s goalkeeper. The first opportunity came from Wayne Rooney, who received a defence splitting pass from Giggs before striking the ball straight towards Yann Sommer. The second chance came after a thrilling Nani run, forcing the goalkeeper to come off his line. The Portuguese winger was interrupted by a Basel defender that came sliding in bravely.
When the interval came around, everyone expected the hairdryer to be taken out. However, we started the second half with less urgency than before so half time wasn’t exactly something we needed. It weakened our momentum despite going on to keep the majority of possession.
The one player that really stood out for Basel was Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international ran through our defence a number of times and proved to be hard work for Patrice Evra. Funnily enough, Shaqiri appeared overweight but that didn’t stop him causing mayhem amongst our back four.
The entire game was summed up in the 59th minute when Basel’s Mark Steinhofer struck the ball of his own crossbar after a troublesome Nani cross. It appeared obvious then that luck clearly wasn’t on our side.
As the game went on, United created more chances and continued to get closer. Wayne Rooney was unlucky to not have scored an equaliser when his curling shot went just wide after the England international cut in from the left wing. There was another attempt from our number 10 a few minutes later, but unfortunately that was blocked too. See where I’m going with this? Last ditch defending from Basel.
In the 84th minute, Alexander Frei scored a second for the Swiss champions. The goal came from a cross that left Chris Smalling dreaming with Frei getting the better of him. It looked, in those last few minutes, that Shaqiri was going to run the ball into a corner trying to waste time – something they did a lot of throughout the second half.
Even though most of our hope had vanished, we produced another late goal with Phil Jones getting his name on the scoresheet. In the same attack, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda both failed to but their efforts away.
Unfortunately, Ferguson’s men didn’t do enough to progress to the later rounds of the competition but we will live to fight another day.