Manchester United take on Basel in the first of their Champions League group games this season, and the Swiss side could pose a different threat to the one which English teams have faced from them in the past.
Basel are currently going through a transition phase under new manager Raphael Wicky. The former Swiss international midfielder who made over 100 appearances for both FC Sion and Hamburg is a part of an overhaul at the club which involves bringing through a new generation of players and ideas.
Dereck Kutesa, Afimico Pululu, Dominik Schmid, and Neftali Manzambi have all been moved to the senior squad from the reserve and youth sides which Wicky used to manage, and they will mix with newer signings such as Éder Álvarez Balanta, Blás Riveros who are still settling in despite being signed last season.
Their new signing up front for this season has had no such problems. Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the former Norwich City and Utrecht striker, has seven goals in seven league games for his new club, and will be one for United’s backline to keep an eye on.
Speaking of United’s back line, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelöf will start due to suspensions for the current pair Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.
“Even if Jones and Bailly were not suspended, I would probably play Smalling and Lindelöf,” said their manager, José Mourinho.
“For Lindelöf, I think the competition is easier to adapt to because he is used to playing in the Champions League.
“Portuguese football is more comparable to the Champions League than the Premier League. I think with him, it will be a choice for me to play him in this match. Smalling is working well so why not use his experience. I trust them. I am not worried at all that Bailly and Jones are out.”
The pair could have their hands full with Van Wolfswinkel, who wasn’t able to show the Premier League what he’s capable of during his time at Norwich.
It will be interesting to see if Mourinho rotates any more of his players following their disappointing draw at Stoke City this weekend. Anthony Martial, Daley Blind, and Juan Mata could all be due a start after sitting on the bench.
Basel are also going into the game on the back of a disappointment after being beaten 2-1 at home to FC Lausanne-Sport, leaving them without a win in three games. Centre back Suchy was sent off after receiving two yellow cards within a minute.
They're are a side who, in their league games, like to play out from the back, but they could take a different approach to a game against a much stronger, more expensively assembled and more talented group of individual players at Old Trafford.
However, given the promotion of a new manager from within and the new ideas surrounding this they could also stick to their guns and provide a similar opposition to the Ajax side United face in last season’s Europa League final.
Even at home Mourinho’s game plan could be to let Basel have the ball before forcing mistakes in their own half, rather than pressing high up the pitch and fording the Swiss side into errors near their opposition goal as many other sides would. Once United get the ball they could end up dominating possession themselves depending on how far Basel retreat.
Wicky’s side have switched between a back three and a back four so far this season, and for an away game in Europe they could well go with the extra insurance provided by a third centre-back.
If this is the case then Van Wolfswinkel could find himself isolated in attack for the visitors, while United’s best chance of attack could come from one of their more attacking wing-backs, such as Valencia, or the use of Marcus Rashford ot Martial against the wide centre-backs.
If the Basel defence turns out to be more of a five then a three, then the possible return from injury of Marouane Fellaini may provide the spanner in the works for the Swiss champions.
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