As Sir Alex Ferguson might say: Football – bloody hell!
Of course, the Manchester United boss might have delivered a slightly more expletive-laden verdict to his players after this game, but for the famous ‘neutrals out there’ this was some game. I certainly learnt two important lessons. Firstly, never write your intro at half time and secondly, statistics can only tell you so much before a game. I’ll not trouble you with the redundant intro, but what of those statistics?
Manchester United had won their last 20 home games in all competitions, were unbeaten at home for 17 months at Old Trafford and have lost just two Champions League matches in 53 games over the last decade. That meant the bookies had priced Basel as long as 20/1 to win this game. Just because they came away with just a point did not mean that price was right.
The signs were there that this game would not be an easy one for United from the very opening. Fabian Frei and Marco Streller with their running and link play caused problems all night for United’s centre back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones. But profligacy in front of goal looked set to cost the Swiss side dear. Frei had a great chance to put the Swiss side ahead on the sixth minute but blasted his shot high and wide from just 18 yards out setting the tone for the visitors in front of goal for the rest of the first half; despite committing men forward and playing with flair and inventiveness, they simply could not take advantage of their chances.
For United, who were missing Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez through injury, much of the pre-match speculation was on whether Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov would make rare European appearances. As it was, not for the first time this season, Ferguson put his faith in the younger members of his squad giving Danny Welbeck, not fully recovered from the hamstring injury he sustained in the 8-2 mauling of Arsenal, the responsibility of spearheading a 4-4-1-1 formation. However, this United side is a blend of old and new, and Ryan Giggs was given a free role behind Welbeck and the pair combined twice in two minutes for the youngster to grab a brace just after the quarter hour mark.
As the teams went in for the break it seemed business as usual but, while some fools were writing intros which would never be read, others will have nervously noted that Basel had created the lion’s share of the chances. It was in the second half the Swiss team finally took advantage of them. Just as United had done, Basel scored twice in two minutes, firstly Frei smashing home a half volley and then his name sake, Alexander Frei, heading home from a Streller cross. A punch-drunk United were all over the place after this double blow, unable to cope with Basel’s attacking verve and sixteen minutes later they were behind. Alex Valencia pulled down Streller and Alex Frei fired home from the penalty spot. However, United never know when they are beaten and Ashley Young grabbed a late, late equaliser heading home a peach of a cross from Nani.
Before the game, Ferguson was at pains to stress that despite the last four years being the most successful period for United in Europe with three Champions League final appearances, it was not a golden period because they had twice fallen at the final hurdle to Barcelona. So far this campaign, which sees United lying third in the group with two points from two games, is certainly lacking sparkle at the moment.
Basel (4-4-1-1): Sommer; Steinhofer, Abraham, Dragovic, Park Joo-Ho; F. Frei (Chipperfield 76), G. Xhaka, Cabral, Zoua; A. Frei (T. Xhaka 88); Streller (Pak 79)
Did you know… This is the 15th consecutive game in which Manchester United have scored.