SOC­CER Man Utd part of ‘sec­ond level’, says Mour­inho

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Manch­ester United can­not be con­sid­ered among the top band of teams in the Cham­pi­ons League, man­ager Jose Mour­inho in­sisted af­ter his side brushed aside Basel 3-0 on their com­pe­ti­tion re­turn.

Goals from sub­sti­tutes Marouane Fel­laini and Marcus Rash­ford sand­wiched Romelu Lukaku’s first goal in the com­pe­ti­tion proper as United opened their Group A cam­paign in straight­for­ward fash­ion on Tues­day. There were eye-catch­ing wins else­where-Barcelona beat­ing Juventus 3-0, big-spend­ing Paris Saint-Ger­main crush­ing Celtic 5-0 — and Mour­inho said United could not cur­rently be con­sid­ered in the same bracket.

“I think for th­ese teams that you are speak­ing of and for the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Bay­erns, the Cham­pi­ons League starts in Fe­bru­ary,” Mour­inho told re­porters at Old Traf­ford.

“Now is just the warm­ing up. And in Fe­bru­ary, when us English teams are try­ing to sur­vive af­ter the win­ter pe­riod, they are fresh and ready af­ter th­ese warm-ups. “For them this is a warm-up. I think we are in the sec­ond level. The sec­ond level is, let’s qual­ify, let’s make the points to qual­ify for the knock­out phase. When we do that, let’s en­joy­ing play­ing against the big guys.”

Hav­ing spent last sea­son pick­ing a path to glory in the Europa League, which en­abled them to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League, this was United’s first game in the top con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion since De­cem­ber 2015.

An in­jury to Paul Pogba aside, United could scarcely have asked for a more straight­for­ward rein­tro­duc­tion to a tour­na­ment they have won three times. But Mour­inho crit­i­cised his play­ers for eas­ing off af­ter Lukaku’s 53rd-minute header put them 2-0 up, ac­cus­ing them of play­ing “PlayS­ta­tion foot­ball” dec­o­rated by un­nec­es­sary “flicks and tricks”.

Pogba left the sta­dium on crutches af­ter be­ing forced off in the 18th minute. “I don’t know, ob­vi­ously, but by ex­pe­ri­ence, just by look­ing and feel­ing, it’s a ham­string,” Mour­inho said. “Big, small, I don’t know.”

BASEL ‘A BIT SCARED’

It was an un­timely end to Pogba’s first match as United cap­tain, but the France mid­fielder’s depar­ture had the ben­e­fi­cial side-ef­fect of bring­ing Fel­laini into the fray. So of­ten de­rided for his per­ceived lack of co­or­di­na­tion, the bushy­haired Bel­gian was United’s best player, open­ing the scor­ing in the 35th minute with a bul­let header from Ash­ley Young’s right-wing cross.

Af­ter his in­ter­na­tional team-mate Lukaku had added a sec­ond, Fel­laini turned provider late on, rolling the ball back from the by­line on the right for Rash­ford to scuff home. Fel­laini was jeered by some United sup­port­ers last sea­son af­ter con­ced­ing a late penalty that en­abled Ever­ton to res­cue a 1-1 draw in a Premier League game at Good­i­son Park in De­cem­ber.

But Mour­inho said that had been the for­mer Ever­ton player’s only mis­step in their year-long as­so­ci­a­tion. “To re­mem­ber a Fel­laini bad per­for­mance I have to go back to last sea­son in the be­gin­ning and it was not even a bad per­for­mance,” Mour­inho said.

“Just a naive mis­take when he made a penalty in the last minute at Good­i­son Park. Fel­laini’s con­tri­bu­tions are al­ways pos­i­tive. He’s a very im­por­tant player for me.” Swiss cham­pi­ons Basel have now gone nine Euro­pean games with­out vic­tory, but coach Raphael Wicky was re­luc­tant to crit­i­cise his play­ers.

“We can learn. This is what I said to my team af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle,” he said. “I saw a team that was alive, that was suf­fer­ing and fight­ing to­gether un­til the 90th minute. “What I didn’t like was that at the be­gin­ning we seemed a bit scared, par­tic­u­larly when we had the ball. But I never saw the team fall apart. There was com­mit­ment and hard work un­til the fi­nal whis­tle.” — AFP

OLD TRAF­FORD: Manch­ester United’s Bel­gian striker Romelu Lukaku (C) heads the ball to score his team’s sec­ond goal dur­ing the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League Group A foot­ball match be­tween Manch­ester United and Basel at Old Traf­ford in Manch­ester, north west Eng­land on Tues­day. — AFP

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