United run through the op­tions and push past Basel with some com­fort

The Guardian - Sport - - Football Champions League - Daniel Tay­lor Old Traf­ford

Manch­ester United 3 Fel­laini 35, Lukaku 53, Rash­ford 84

Basel 0

It was a vic­tory that came at a cost for Manch­ester United bear­ing in mind the im­pli­ca­tions for Paul Pogba and the sight of the club’s most ex­pen­sive player pre­ma­turely mak­ing his way along the touch­line with a glum look on his face that con­firmed he knew it might be the last time the fans see him for a while. Pogba had not even lasted 20 min­utes and maybe this is now the time for Marouane Fel­laini to show why José Mour­inho, like Louis van Gaal and David Moyes pre­vi­ously, has kept faith in him dur­ing the in­ter­mit­tent pe­ri­ods when the crowd at Old Traf­ford has not been so sure.

On that front, Fel­laini has made a promis­ing start, scor­ing within a quar­ter of an hour of re­plac­ing his in­jured col­league. Romelu Lukaku added the sec­ond goal of a free­wheel­ing win, mean­ing he now has six in as many ap­pear­ances for his new club, and Mar­cus Rash­ford tucked in the third from Fel­laini’s cross in the 84th minute. Basel were mod­er­ate op­po­nents and the only real dis­ap­point­ment for United came in the form of the ham­string strain that meant Pogba mak­ing an early de­par­ture.

The French mid­fielder had ham­string prob­lems last sea­son and it was ob­vi­ous, as soon as he came out of an in­nocu­ous chal­lenge with a Basel op­po­nent, that he had felt the tell-tale pain at the back of his left leg. His hand reached down in­stinc­tively and as soon as that hap­pens, there is usu­ally no way back. A scan this morn­ing will de­ter­mine how many games he is likely to miss.

Th­ese in­juries are not usu­ally healed in­side two to three weeks, of­ten tak­ing longer, and that rep­re­sents a con­sid­er­able set­back for the Premier League’s early pace-set­ters given the im­pres­sive way the French­man has started his sec­ond sea­son at the club.

Fel­laini was duly added to a team that also had Vic­tor Lin­delöf , the £30.7m sum­mer re­cruit from Ben­fica, mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance since a dif­fi­cult night in the Euro­pean Su­per Cup fi­nal against Real Madrid made it ap­par­ent to Mour­inho that the new sign­ing needed eas­ing in grad­u­ally. Chris Smalling was also brought back with an­other of United’s for­got­ten men, Ash­ley Young, pa­trolling the right-back’s po­si­tion in an ex­per­i­men­tal de­fence.

Young has been re­duced to a role as an odd-job man for United, filling in here and there in a num­ber of po­si­tions, but he rarely lets the team down when he does get the call and it was his cross, re-en­act­ing his days as a winger, that led to Fel­laini an­nounc­ing his ar­rival with a 35th-minute goal. Fel­laini was the tallest player in the six-yard area and the goal seemed in­evitable as soon as it be­came ap­par­ent the cross was arc­ing to­wards that almighty hairdo. He can frus­trate the crowd some­times when he has the ball at his feet but this was an­other mo­ment that summed up why Mour­inho al­ways speaks favourably about the Bel­gian.

United prob­a­bly ought to have been ahead even be­fore Fel­laini guided his header past the op­po­si­tion goal­keeper, To­mas Va­clik, but Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan headed over af­ter the best move of the first half, in­volv­ing a tri­an­gu­lar ex­change of passes with Anthony Mar­tial and Juan Mata, and then hit a post with a closerange ef­fort from Lukaku’s cross. A more ac­com­plished team than Basel might have done more to test United’s new-look de­fence but Pogba’s in­jury aside, it was a rel­a­tively stress-free open­ing half for the home side.

Basel have won the Swiss cham­pi­onship in each of the past eight sea­sons but, as some­times hap­pens when teams visit Old Traf­ford in this com­pe­ti­tion, they gave the im­pres­sion in parts of the night that they saw the ex­pe­ri­ence as an op­por­tu­nity for some sight­see­ing rather than har­bour­ing any real be­lief that they could cause an up­set. Éder Balanta, their Colom­bian cen­tre-half, ac­quit­ted him­self well and there were some neat touches from Re­nato St­ef­fen on the right side of their at­tack, but there was never any real dan­ger of United sur­ren­der­ing their ad­van­tage once Lukaku had dou­bled the lead eight min­utes into the sec­ond half.

Again, it was a header from the six-yard area and an­other demon­stra­tion, per­haps, that Mour­inho has as­sem­bled a team that is more dan­ger­ous in the air than any set of play­ers who have called Old Traf­ford their home ground. This time it was Da­ley Blind sup­ply­ing the cross, hav­ing played a short cor­ner to Mata and re­ceived the ball back, and Lukaku emerged from a clutch of play­ers to ap­ply the de­ci­sive touch in front of the old Stret­ford End.

David de Gea did make one splen­did save to deny Mo­hamed Ely­ounoussi af­ter 63 min­utes and Mour­inho was vis­i­bly an­noyed by the way Mkhi­taryan lost the ball in the pre­ced­ing mo­ments to the striker’s at­tempt.

That, how­ever, was the only scare and Rash­ford, one of the sub­sti­tutes, sealed the win af­ter Fel­laini’s cross had reached him 12 yards out.

Martin Rick­ett/PA Wire

Marouane Fel­laini, right, climbs high­est at the far post to head home Ash­ley Young’s cross and give Manch­ester United the lead against Basel

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