12/09/2017 21:30, Report by Ryan Grant
UEFA Champions League | 12 September 2017 | Old Trafford | Attendance: TBC | Scorers: Fellaini 35, Lukaku 53, Rashford 84
Manchester United made the perfect start to the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League campaign, beating FC Basel 3-0 on Tuesday evening.
Marouane Fellaini stepped off the bench to head the Reds into a 35th-minute lead, before Romelu Lukaku continued his fine scoring run by netting his first-ever goal in the competition eight minutes after the break. Another United substitute, Marcus Rashford, then rounded off the win six minutes from time by netting on his debut in Europe’s premier competition.
Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho made six changes from last weekend’s Premier League draw at Stoke – among those alterations, Ashley Young made his first appearance since May and Victor Lindelof played only his second competitive game for the club.
In the stands, the sound of that famous Champions League anthem brought a real sense that the club was back where it belongs and, on the pitch, the Reds immediately looked to take advantage of the atmosphere, going close through Lukaku before Anthony Martial fired over.
Not to be outdone, the pocket of travelling fans from Switzerland were determined to make themselves heard, but it was United who continued to press, with Juan Mata looking to play between the lines on his return to the starting eleven. And it was the Spaniard who so nearly had an assist to his name on 13 minutes, hooking a cross towards Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian could only divert his header over.
There was a worrying moment for Mourinho’s men five minutes later, however, when stand-in captain Paul Pogba was forced off and went straight down the tunnel for treatment. With Fellaini on in the Frenchman’s place, it wasn’t long before the Reds were creating chances once again, but this time the upright came to the visitors’ aid.
It was Mkhitaryan again who almost added to his impressive European goal tally from last season, stabbing the ball against the post from Lukaku’s cross before Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik recovered.
Meanwhile, United’s Swiss opponents were made to wait for a sight of goal but, when it arrived, they might have taken the lead against the run of play. After some good build-up play down the left, the ball found its way to Luca Zuffi, but the midfielder pulled his strike wide of goal.
It was a missed chance Basel would come to regret as, on 35 minutes, Young made half a yard of room on the right and delivered an inviting cross for Fellaini to power a header home, giving United a deserved half-time lead.
After the break, it was six minutes until either side fashioned a goalscoring opportunity of note, with Martial cutting in from the right-hand side and forcing a low save from Vaclik. From the resulting corner, Daley Blind floated a cross towards the far post, and Lukaku did the rest by heading powerfully into the net.
United’s no.9 might have had a second goal for himself just after the hour mark, but this time Vaclik got a glove to the striker’s header following Mkhitaryan’s diagonal ball. Moments later, at the other end, David De Gea stayed alert to expertly tip Mohamed Elyounoussi’s rising effort over the bar.
Mourinho’s men then had two chances in quick succession, with Martial almost converting Fellaini’s deflected cross from close range before Young’s 25-yard drive was palmed around the post.
As the game entered its final stages, Jesse Lingard and Rashford joined the action from the bench, replacing Martial and Mata respectively. Rashford was immediately involved, running at the Basel defence and winning a free-kick 30 yards from goal, which he fired over.
At the next opportunity, though, the striker got his goal. This time, Fellaini found space on the right and, after Mkhitaryan miscued his effort, Rashford pounced to put the result beyond doubt. Ultimately, it capped a professional display from United, who sit top of Group A after matchday one.
United: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Blind, Matic, Pogba (Fellaini 18), Mata (Rashford 77), Mkhitaryan, Martial (Lingard 69), Lukaku.
Subs not used: Romero, Darmian, Valencia, Carrick.
Booked: Blind, Young
FC Basel: Vaclik, Akanji, Suchy (c), Balanta, Lang, Xhaka, Zuffi, Riveros (Oberlin 77), Steffen, van Wolfswinkel (Bua 66), Elyounoussi.
Subs not used: Salvi, Gaber, Fransson, Schmid, Calla.
Booked: Balanta, Lang, Xhaka
United are back
That’s right! On Tuesday, the Reds were back dining at Europe’s top table for the first time since December 2015. ManUtd.com’s reporters spoke to fans outside Old Trafford before the game, and it was clear that there was excitement in the air. A rainy evening at the Theatre of Dreams failed to dampen the supporters’ spirits, with more important games to come.
Did you spot this?
Each of United’s first two goals on the night were created by full-backs and scored by Belgians. It was Ashley Young who crossed for Marouane Fellaini to head home the opener, before Daley Blind set up Romelu Lukaku for the Reds’ second. And speaking of Lukaku….
Six in six
Romelu Lukaku is enjoying a fantastic start to life at Manchester United. His goal on 53 minutes was the striker’s first in the Champions League, and sixth in as many matches for the Reds since his summer move from Everton.
The Felli factor
Before Tuesday’s match, Jose Mourinho stressed the importance of Marouane Fellaini to the United side, and the Belgian justified his manager’s praise with a towering header 10 minutes before the break. While his introduction came in unfortunate circumstances following an apparent injury to Paul Pogba, Felli certainly made his mark after coming on. He’s making a habit of scoring as a substitute, having already done so against Leicester in the league this season.
Another debut goal for Rashford
If the story of Marcus Rashford’s rise to prominence wasn’t impressive enough, the youngster has now scored on as many as six debuts in various competitions, including: Premier League, League Cup, England Under-21, England senior team, Europa League and now Champions League. What a record!
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
Next up, the Reds face Everton in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Sunday (17 September). Our next Champions League match is against CSKA Moscow in Russia on Wednesday 27 September.