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
Possession: United 60% Basel 40%
Total shots: United 18 Basel 8
Shots on target: United 8 Basel 2
Corners: United 7 Basel 3
FIVE TALKING POINTS
1: 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.
2: Belgian influence
Each of United’s first two goals on the night were created by full-backs and scored by Belgians. It was Young who crossed for Fellaini to head home the opener, before Blind set up Lukaku for the Reds’ second. That was Romelu’s sixth strike in as many matches for the club this season. What a record!
3: Injury for Pogba
Paul looks set for a spell on the sidelines after being substituted with a suspected hamstring injury – ruining his first outing as captain. Mourinho later told MUTV: “I just know from experience it’s a muscular injury. In my experience, muscular injury stops you from playing for a few weeks, I think.”
4: The Felli factor
Mourinho had stressed Marouane’s importance to the United side and the Belgian justified his manager’s praise with a Man of the Match performance. While his introduction came in unfortunate circumstances after an injury to Pogba, Felli made his mark after coming on. He’s making a habit of scoring as a substitute, having already done so against Leicester City in the Premier League.
5: 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.