Manchester United can not merely seal progress in Basel at the capital of Switzerland but also do it in style as group winners on Wednesday evening, where a win would extend their already perfect record in the Champions League so far – to five wins in five.
This will be the Red Devils’ first appearance in the tournament’s knockout rounds in three years as the Portuguese manager is half-way through making sure United put in the right level of effort and commitment to get them to a stage where qualifying for the last 16 in the Champions League may become second nature again.
The visitors will make the trip to St. Jakob’s Park in high spirits after dusting off some cobwebs in the weekend – going back to a familiar pattern of scoring four goals in a Premier League in the weekend, including and primarily down to the return of star midfielder Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo from medium and long-term layoffs – key first team members who will all play a vital role in the forthcoming months of December and beyond.
For Basel, there is all to play for in the competition. After an impressive thrashing of Benfica on match-day two, the Swiss side have struggled to build on – even losing their most recent group A encounter against CSKA Moscow. Basel are suffering a period of poor results however, winning only once in the last four games in all competitions.
The home side have six points, level with CSKA, and will be through if they win and the Russian team lose due to their better head-to-head record and it will be interesting to see if the Swiss side could pull off a another major against the might of Manchester United.
Marcos Rojo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba all returned to first-team action at the weekend but Jose Mourinho will carefully manage their involvement at the start of this busy period. Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are both doubts for the away side after missing the 4-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday through injury. With United very close to achieving qualification to the knockouts, Jose Mourinho is expected to rotate his squad to maximise utilisation.
Taulant Xhaka is suspended for the hosts, while Éder Balanta is one booking away from joining him on the sidelines while Omar Gaber, Germano Vailati and Ricky van Wolfswinkel are all ruled out for Basel.
- Before thrashing SL Benfica 5-0 on match-day two – their record UEFA Champions League win – Raphaël Wicky’s team were without a victory in nine European matches, home or away (D3 L6), since a 2-1 home success over AS Saint-Étienne on 25 February 2016.
- Basel ended a three-match winless run on Saturday despite trailing at half-time in their 5-1 defeat of FC Sion.
- Jesse Lingard is a booking away from a ban.
- Mourinho’s side have kept 12 clean sheets in their last 18 matches in all competitions.
Dimitri Oberlin – FC Basel
20-year old Dimitri Oberlin has been one of the bright spots of FC Basel with the Swiss wide forward getting 3 goals in 2 starts. He is one of the most in form youngsters in the country and will be crucial to unlock Man United’s robust defence – that has conceded only 1 goal in the competition.
Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United
After a 7-game goal drought for Manchester United, the Belgian made sure his name was on the score-sheet as United racked up the goals against Newcastle United in the weekend. The 24-year old has had a great start to life in Manchester regardless but playing with Martial, Rashford and Pogba will make him a much better forward up front of goal and that should worry any opposition, not least Basel – whom United have already beat 3-0 at Old Trafford early in the tournament.
United need a point to secure qualification as group winners, but they could get all three should Lukaku continue to build on his momentum.
United to edge a narrow borefest.
FC Basel 0-1 Manchester United