Manchester United have dominated their Champions League group so far, but they face a stern test on Wednesday night. Their Swiss opponents FC Basel are involved in a fierce battle with CSKA Moscow for second place in the group and they will not want to concede ground to the Russians.
However, United’s squad has been strengthened by the return of some long-term absentees. Paul Pogba put in a man of the match performance against Newcastle on Saturday evening after more than two months out with a hamstring injury, whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic, so influential in domestic and European competition for United last season, came on for 15 minutes at the weekend after seven months out with knee ligament damage.
Basel are desperate to succeed in the Champions League this season, especially since they look set to relinquish the league title for the first time in nine years to BSC Young Boys. In European competition, it has been a mixed bag. They crushed Benfica 5-0 on matchday two, but last time out, with the chance to all but guarantee qualification from the group, they slipped to a surprise home defeat to CSKA.
Romelu Lukaku is the obvious threat for the Red Devils in this fixture. He has started all four games for them in this season’s Champions League and has already bagged three goals. His form has taken a dip recently, but his goal against Newcastle at the weekend will have boosted his confidence.
On-loan attacker Dimitri Oberlin has impressed for Basel this season in the Champions League. He has hit three goals, including a fine brace against Benfica. The first of those strikes came after a blistering run from his own penalty box to get on the end of a fine counter-attack. United will need to keep an eye on the pacey youngster.
With Pogba and Ibrahimovic back in the first-team, United’s main injury problems are in defence. Phil Jones picked up a knock on international duty and was missing at the weekend, as was his regular centre-back partner, Eric Bailly. Both face a race to be fit on Wednesday. Marcos Rojo made his return to the Under 23’s last week after seven months out with cruciate ligament damage, but Mourinho may not want to risk him yet in a first team match.
Basel would have hoped to be at full strength for this crucial fixture, but they will be missing a key player. Albanian midfielder Taulant Xhaka has picked up three yellow cards in the group stage so far, meaning he will have to sit this tie out through suspension.
Basel won 2-1 the last time they played Manchester United at home in the Champions League. It might be a tougher ask this time out, but with the Red Devils virtually assured of top spot in the group, the Swiss side might have a chance if they come up against a complacent or understrength United team.