Following a triumph in the Europa League last season to claim the illustrious prize, Manchester United are back in the Champions League. The group stage has often been kind to United in terms of opponents compared to most other British sides in recent years and this season, United have drawn FC Basel, SL Benfica & CSKA Moscow. However, since the reds’ last appearance in the Final in 2010/11, United have struggled getting through the group stages, with just 2 progressions in 4 attempts – due to there being 2 Champions League campaigns in which United have not featured in. With that in mind, United can’t underestimate any side they face and none more so than the team that knocked them out at the group stage in 2011/12, FC Basel. Old Trafford sees a return to the glitz & glamour of Europe’s most prestigious competition, as United take on the Swiss side.
The visitors have had a mixed start to their domestic season, winning 3 games, drawing 2 and losing 2 as their campaign started in mid-July. This puts them behind fellow Swiss Super League title contenders FC Zurich and Young Boys, whom Basel suffered defeat from in their opening match. Raphael Wicky’s squad has some recognisable players in time ranks but not many from 2011/12. Centre-back Marek Suchy, who was dismissed for a yellow cards at the weekend, spent time at Spartak Moscow between 2010 and 2014. Serey Dié has made his name for Ivory Coast and VFB Stuggart in the past before he returned to Basel last summer. Taulant Xhaka is the brother of Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and plays in the same position. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is a familiar face after a productive spell at Sporting Lisbon saw him move to Norwich, but the Dutch striker couldn’t emulate that form in East Anglia. However, the forward has picked up 7 goals already this season. His side mostly play either a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1 and formation and are capable of goals, something United and José Mourinho will have look out for.
For United, some team news is already out. Mourinho revealed in his press conference that David De Gea, Chris Smalling and new signing Victor Lindelöf will all start. Marouane Fellaini is back in training and Ashley Young has reportedly returned to the squad after an injury last season has kept him out ever since. He made his way back through playing games for the Under 23s and Luke Shaw has done the same, however the English full-back is still not ready to return to first-team action. In terms of other personnel, players such as Daley Blind and Juan Mata stand a good chance of returning to the line-up. James Wilson was surprisingly included in the reds’ group stage squad and could make the bench if Romelu Lukaku were to be given a rest. Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard have had a cameos this campaign and could appear. Recently announced Europa League winner Paul Pogba is likely to partner Nemanja Matić in midfield as United will be looking to rejuvenate themselves after a tactic change in the middle of the park in last weekend’s match didn’t go to plan. Burton Albion visit Old Trafford next Wednesday so there will be ample opportunity for players to get an outing or a rest then. French referee Ruddy Buquet will take charge of the match; and he is also, interestingly, a commercial agent by day.
It’s sure to be a sight when the Champions League advertising dons the Theatre of Dreams once again and literal music to the ears as Tony Britten’s Champions League theme rings out. United will be ravenous for a victory and to make no mistakes in what could be a very pivotal game in the grand scheme of things, as well as the short-term. Basel will be sure to put up a fight and could surprise many with their performance. Whatever happens, it’s set to be a welcome return to the elite competition for both teams.