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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

United they stood, United they fell (FC Basel 2-1 Manchester United)

Manchester United only needed a point to advance to the next stage of the Champions League, and only Swiss champions FC Basel stood in the way of an inevitable advance to the last 16. But as we know, football is such an unpredictable game...

The pressure was certainly on the United team. Although they may be much stronger than the Heiko Vogel's side, the Swiss champions had the fantastic home support that saw them win seven out of their last eight matches at St. Jakob Park. But from the early signs, it certainly seemed that Man United were not playing for the point they needed to get through, but for all three! Dominating possession in the opening minutes with solid build-up play, Park managed to turn a defender on the edge of the box and execute a curling shot, flying over the both. Basel weren't going to be frightened though, managing to break into the United half and have a few crosses that left De Gea scrambling. But on the eight minute mark, they did a bit more then trouble him. A cross flew into the box, Smalling went down under a challenge and the ball eventually arrived on the opposite wing to Shaqiri, whose low ball deflected off of the young United goalie's leg and into the path of Marco Strellar, who volleyed emphatically into the net. This was the Basel striker's fourth goal in consecutive games, and certainly his most important one, his team had the upper hand.

Man United responded, attacking the home end and winning two corners in quick succession, but unfortunately they both evaded all who dwelled within the Basel box. They continued in similar fashion to how they started the game, maintaining a majority of the possession and looking to find an equaliser. They were now allowing their full backs to join the attacking surge, with Chris Smalling breaking down the wing to deliver a searching ball, but no United player was able to latch onto it and it was saved by the 23-year old Swiss stopper Yann Sommer. Man United missed their best chance of the game on the half hour mark though, Nani hit a low cross into the path of Rooney, who completely, hopelessly misses the ball, and the incoming Park could only bundle into the arms of the goalie.

Another corner came, another corner went. Giggs’ inswinging left footer was met by a defensive clearance and almost allowed Basel to break. It seemed that the more United attack, the more vulnerable they become. A plus side for United was the danger of wingers. Nani was making darting runs onto the wings and making crosses, also having attempts on goal in the process. Giggs was looking to play penetrating balls through the defence, which he did successfully on the 34th minute, resulting in a decent save from Wayne Rooney's effort and this was followed a few minutes later when Young had a tame shot from outside of the box after a United free-kick for handball.

The Red Devil's evening went from bad to worse on the 42nd minute, Vidic and goal-scorer Streller tangled to try and get the ball, with the Basel striker falling awkwardly on the defender, causing a twist in the right leg. He left the pitch on a stretcher and was replaced by fellow centre-back Jonny Evans. Basel then had a rare attacking spell after being on the back foot for the past half an hour, trouble-making winger Shaqiri ran down the wing and took an ambitious shot towards De Gea's goal, but it was saved by the young Spaniard. Both teams went into the break fairly satisfied, Man United certainly dominated the half but were behind. If they didn't score in the upcoming 45 minutes, then their next European game would be in the Europa League.

Sir Alex’s men nearly started the half in the best possible way. The versatile figure of Giggs put another great ball into the path of Rooney, who squared to curl it round the keeper, but it went just wide. Immediately after, the ever-present Nani made another run and shot, only for it to be caught by the welcoming hands of Sommer. Almost replicating the first half, Basel then broke away and crossed into the United box, the ball fell to Shaqiri, who had ample time to get his shot away, but luckily for United, it went over. More chances came and went for Basel, Alexander Frei's free-kick was tipped over well by De Gea (with the resulting corner being cleared away) and Fabian Frei (no relation) had his shot blocked by Smalling Finally, Dragovic had a header caught from the resulting corner. United's grip on the game was slowly slipping away, which would have annoyed Sir Alex and his team.

However, despite Basel getting back into the game, United did have a good spell between the 55th and 60th minute. They won two corners and a throw-in from similar position, which eventually resulted in Basel right-back Steinhöfer hitting a beautiful, pin-point volley against his own bar (I have no idea what he was thinking of). Shots from Rooney, Nani and Rooney again in following moments did nothing to threaten the home side's net as Basel continued to ride their luck.

70 minutes in, Manchester United did have a good chance to try and equalise, but it was missed by the head of Rooney after Nani's well worked cross (it was also offside, so technically it wasn't even a chance). Nevertheless, United were starting to regain the authority the once showed at the beginning of the match, holding onto possession but still failing to find an end product. Basel were now looking to keep the scoreline the way it is, even star winger Shaqiri was getting back to block Rooney's shot. The only half chance they had in the next ten minutes was from Phil Jones' cross, which was collected by Sommer. The Swiss side were doing their best to frustrate the Manchurians, even midfielder Granit Xhaka had a half-hearted attempted from 35 yards out, inevitably going wide. But their next attempt was certainly not wasted. Star player Shaqiri got the ball, took it down to the wing and whipped in with his left foot, the curling cross evaded all players except for Alex Frei who was lurking at the far post, and he dived in to head the ball past the hopeless De Gea; what a massive defensive calamity!

In the last five minutes, there was enough time for United to grab a consolation. Welbeck was free on the edge of the six yard box and hit a powerful shot which was well saved, the ball bounced out to Macheda, whose attempt hit the bar from a close distance and it was up to Phil Jones to head the ball over the line. The defence and goalkeeper really should have dealt with it better, but it done nothing to affect the eventual outcome of the game. Manchester United had been knocked out of the group stages for the first time in six years, and Basel go marching on for a chance to win the Champions League trophy. I would not like to be in the Red Devil dressing room right now...

United: De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic (Evans 40), Evra; Nani, Jones, Giggs, Park (Macheda 80), Young (Welbeck 63), Rooney.

Basle: Sommer; Park Joo Ho, Dragovic, Abraham, Steinhofer, Shaqiri, F Frei, Cabral, G Xhaka (Chipperfield 81), Streller, A Frei (Kusunga 86)

BeeTeeSports Man of the Match: Xherdan Shaqiri (8/10)

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