United can cope without Paul Pogba
There was an unmistakeable air of gloom encircling Old Trafford as Paul Pogba, handed the captain’s armband for the first time, limped off with a hamstring problem after just 16 minutes. He was later seen leaving the ground on crutches but the exact severity of his knock is still unknown.
His absence inevitably took the gloss off Manchester United’s display going forward, with Jose Mourinho’s men unable to produce the same fluidity and craft to their play that the Frenchman brings. But they still dominated, created chances and, crucially, claimed an easy three points. Marouane Fellaini, along with the brilliant Nemanja Matic, stepped up to produce a dominant display in the middle. The Belgian treated Old Trafford to something of a masterclass: a goal, an assist, an endless stream of smart tackles and interceptions, superb runs down the middle.
Zinedine Zidane, tucked under some Fellaini bedsheets at home, would have enjoyed watching that one.
Ashley Young is a superb option
Mourinho’s decision to start Ashley Young at right back raised a few eyebrows. The Englishman had not played since the first leg against Celta Vigo last season after having groin surgery but, as the boss noted before the game, it doesn’t take much for the veteran to regain full speed.
He was magnificent once again. You can always count on Young to produce a disciplined, enterprising display when called upon, and you can see why the Portuguese wants to keep him at Old Trafford until 2019.
If anything, the attacking dynamic he offers eclipses that of the direct but often misfiring Antonio Valencia – something emphasised by a wondrous assist for Fellaini in the first half that required skill, deftness and perfect execution. The Ecuadorian will always invoke more power on the right hand side, but Young’s approach is based on craft – the finer details, if you will – and supporters will hope to see him involved on a regular basis this season.
Romelu Lukaku can do it on the European stage
Not many players can score 150 club goals and still face the need to prove themselves, but such was the case with Romelu Lukaku on Tuesday night. The Belgian has so far established himself at the highest level through inflicting damage domestically, but how would he fare on the continental stage? Would this prove to be where his brilliance in front of goal hits a wall?
Absolutely not. Lukaku, like with all good strikers, was hardly in the game until he popped up – unnoticed and unstoppable – with a bullet header in the 53rd minute to put the game to bed. This is what all good strikers do: place themselves in good positions, remain patient, and take their chance when it comes.
He now has six goals in as many games since joining United and looks nothing short of inexorable. Mourinho has a proper goalscorer on his hands.
United keep creating problems for themselves
The scowl on Mourinho’s face as he headed for the tunnel at half time, despite his side being deservedly 1-0 up, told you everything. United could have been out of sight by the break but a mixture of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s wastefulness in front of goal and unforced errors at the back meant Basel were still firmly in the game.
Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling defended well on the whole and deserved a clean sheet, but they made life difficult for themselves when it didn’t need to be. A couple of stray passes from Lindelof but United on the back-foot, while Smalling occasionally found himself caught in awkward positions. The good thing, I guess, is that no side has really broke Mourinho’s side down since the UEFA Super Cup, but the last two games have revealed a worrying propensity for United to do it themselves, and a side with greater precision going forward would have punished them.
FC Basel aren’t the threat they used to be
United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have all felt the derailing impact the ostensibly benign Swiss champions can have on their European campaigns, but United went up against a comparatively muted outfit this time around.
They had a litany of problems heading into the game. Raphael Wicky is still getting to grips with his side, and the loss of Seydou Doumbia over the summer has weakened them considerably, especially with their replacement being Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Basel currently lie in third spot in their domestic division after losing 1-2 at home to bottom side Lausanne and United should easily finish above them. Elsewhere in the group, CSKA Moscow revealed some glaring weaknesses at Benfica – seemingly Mourinho’s biggest threat – by winning 2-1 in Lisbon.