Thursday 14 November 2019

Young to the rescue as Basel expose faulty United

Manchester Utd 3
Basel 3,

Rory Smith

How Thorsten Fink must dread crossing paths with Alex Ferguson. Just as in Barcelona 12 years ago, he was within a minute of a famous victory over Manchester United with his brave, battling Basel side.

Just as in Barcelona, the Scot found a way to visit upon him the excruciating pain of denial. At least here, the former Bayern Munich midfielder, a late substitute when Ferguson won his first Champions League all those years ago, emerged from Old Trafford with a point, a parity earned despite falling two goals behind and more than warranted by the Swiss side's display.

This was a game United seemed to have sealed. This appeared to be one of those Champions League group stage processions. Ferguson's side started strongly and even had the decency to give their Swiss visitors a warning.

Antonio Valencia headed across the face of goal from an Ashley Young cross when the Ecuadorean might have been better off trying to beat Yann Sommer himself. When Young did test the Swiss international, with a snapshot from a Valencia cross, he found his reactions up to the task.

However, Sommer could do little when United's mounting pressure eventually told. Fabio, at right-back, burst past the beleaguered Park Joo-Ho and cut the ball back to Ryan Giggs. The Welshman's lay-off found Danny Welbeck, whose shot wrong-footed the goalkeeper and bobbled across the line.

The 20-year-old's second, scarcely 60 seconds later, was rather more emphatic. Giggs, with effortless grace, threaded a zipping ball through the visitors' defence, his intentions shielded by Young; at the far post lurked Welbeck, a turn of his right foot enough to steer the ball past the helpless Sommer.

Not 20 minutes in, and he had already shown why he started ahead of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen, even in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. Owen, in truth, has long accepted his role as an understudy; for Berbatov, such a reality may be harder to handle.

It is, though, an unpalatable, undeniable truth. Welbeck suits this new United, this vision of Ferguson's, much more than the Bulgarian. Welbeck moves with purpose and energy, drifting into channels and between lines, interchanging with the equally fluid Young and Valencia.

He might have had another, shooting straight at Sommer, while his dummy forced the goalkeeper into another impressive save from Valencia.

United's fluidity in attack is to be much admired. Replicating that trait in defence is rather less praiseworthy. Their nerves frayed, United rocked on their heels. David de Gea denied Streller with an outstretched foot, but could not hold back the turning tide alone.

First, Streller flicked Alexander Frei's corner on at the near post, forcing De Gea to palm the ball back out to Fabian Frei -- no relation -- who produced a superbly-controlled volley, ricocheting off both posts, for the guests' first.

Basel's raucous travelling support roared their side on; within two minutes, they were level, this time Fabian providing for Alexander, the veteran forward expertly directing a header across De Gea and into the far corner.

It would get worse. Basel swarmed forward, unable to believe the space afforded them, the timidity of United's resistance. Granit Xhaka ducked inside, picking out Streller, who rounded Valencia, tumbling under the lightest pressure. Paolo Tagliavento awarded the penalty.

Alexander Frei duly converted. Suddenly, United were behind.

Only at the last did they rescue it, Nani crossing for the unmarked Young to beat Sommer. A minute left on the clock. Fink could probably have predicted that, although despite rescuing a point, the Unietd manager was far from happy.

"I think we were careless. It's a wake-up call in many ways. A lack of concentration saw us give the game away really but we rescued it. To concede three goals at home is bad. The defence and midfield have to be better than that in terms of concentration. If you lapse, the quality of the Champions League can make you suffer."

The Scot was unimpressed by the penalty decision which gave Basel the lead.

"I don't think it was a penalty. You can see quite clearly that Valencia won the ball. It's a poor decision.

"The referee kept getting in the way of the game. I think he wanted to play. But what can you do?" (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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