Basel stifle a dismally disappointing Manchester United team to secure a stunning, unexpected success
Early arrivals were warned that I wasn't going to turn up until 7.30pm, and treated to highlights of our match preview. And I see no reason to deny you lucky latecomers a similar treat:
Sir Alex Ferguson believes the threat to Manchester United's Champions League status will guarantee there is no loss of focus from Wayne Rooney when the striker commences a crucial week in Switzerland against Basel.
United must avoid defeat at the home of the Swiss champions to ensure they do not fall at the group stage of the Champions League for only the third time in 17 campaigns. Rooney's duties in Switzerland not only include leading a United attack weakened by injuries to Javier Hernández, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen but attending a disciplinary hearing at Uefa's headquarters in Nyon on Thursday morning that will decide whether he must serve a three-match suspension at next summer's European Championship.
Ferguson was sensitive enough to Rooney's despair after his dismissal for England against Montenegro in October to leave him out of the starting lineup in United's subsequent game at Liverpool. Rooney's value to United, and the need to remain on course for a fourth Champions League final appearance in five seasons, however, prompted Ferguson to dismiss any concerns that the 26-year-old could be distracted by off-field events in the Group C finale. "That is a different day," he said of Rooney's Uefa appeal. "This is a big game, an important game, and I don't think that will come into it at all."
United failed to qualify from the group stages only in 1994-95 and 2005-06. They face a Basel team who must win to join Benfica in the knockout phase and are on a fine run of 15 wins in their past 19 games in all competitions, although Ferguson – having lost only one away game in Europe since the 2007 semi-final defeat to Milan (finals against Barcelona excluded) – displayed supreme confidence in United's prospects of success ...
It's true, I'm not going to be here until 7.30pm. But Uefa have already sent me the teams and there's no reason why you should be made to wait for them. So here they are:
Basle: Sommer; Steinhöfer, Abraham, Dragovic, Park; Shaqiri, Cabral, Xhaka, F Frei; A Frei; Streller. Subs from: Colomba, Chipperfield, Stocker, Kasunga, Kovac, Zoua, Pak.
Manchester United: De Gea; Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Park, Giggs, Jones, Young; Nani; Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Evans, Welbeck, Fletcher, Valencia, Macheda, Gibson.
Referee: B Kuipers (Ned).
United need a point to qualify; Basel know a victory would take them above their opponents, which sounds promising, but they must deal with the fact that their manager, Heiko Vogel, sounds like a character from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and not a human one at that.
Of course, it might have been different had Ashley Young not scored with a stoppage-time header to rescue a point for United in the home tie, after they had somehow parlayed a 2-0 half-time lead into a 3-2 last-minute deficit. Actually there's no might about it – it would have been different. It's a fact. United have only failed to escape from the group stage twice before, most recently six years ago today.
And who knows what Douglas Adams would have made of someone called Granit Xhaka. Pronounced "granite shaker", I suppose. I've got a granite pestle and mortar, but that's another story.
Thanks to Robin Hazlehurst for rescuing this entry, which I thought had been lost in some kind of computerised hell
A couple of Basel stats: Alexander Frei has scored 15 goals in his last 16 club outings, including three penalties. They have won every one of their six league games since the appointment of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz as manager in October.
What I want for Christmas. Please.
"This is the 300th European match for #MUFC," reports @InfostradaLive on Twitter. "They have won 161, drawn 80 and lost 58 of their previous 299 matches in Europe."
1 min: Peeeeep! They're off!
2 mins: Park, who has started in a very advanced position, finds Rooney, who had he only the gift of 360-degree vision could have backheeled Nani into an entire ocean of space on the right.
3 mins: United play about 20 passes across Basel's penalty area before Park eventually spanks a shot on the turn over the bar from 15 yards. This has started very promisingly for United.
5 mins: I can't remember a more one-sided first five minutes of an away game, not in even the most hopeless FA Cup third-round non-league v Premier League mis-match.
6 mins: Apparently Xhaka's name is pronounced like this.
7 mins: Basel mount an attack, which features three crosses into United's penalty area. The first De Gea punches when he might have caught, the second he leaves well alone, and the third he collects easily.
9mins: I don't mean (6 mins) that the commentator must sing the entirety of Chaka Khan's 1984 chart-topper I Feel For You every time they mention Basel's left-sided midfielder, just the first two syllables.
GOAL! Basel 1 Manchester United 0!
9 mins: I was just writing that the second five minutes had been considerably less one-sided than the first, when Basel only go and take the lead, as a low cross from the left is feebly palmed away by De Gea and Marco Streller volleys it home. As the cross came in, and still now, Chris Smalling was on the ground after a clash with Nemanja Vidic's elbow.
11 mins: Benfica are also winning, and as things stand would win the group, with Basel second.
12 mins: Smalling is back on his feet and United are back on the attack, though Nani's 20-yarder has flown over the bar.
15 mins: And so the stage is set, for a lot of United playing the ball however they like around the midfield as Basel defend deep.
16 mins: Bizarre corner, taken by Giggs. United's players start in a line, shoulder to shoulder, before breaking ranks as the kick is taken. Cabral is so bemused by this that when the ball drops to him, uncontested, 12 yards out, he bizarrely heads towards his own goal, quite powerfully. Fortunately he hits a team-mate.
17 mins: Having written about Basel's entrenchment, their centre-back David Abraham just launched himself into a 70-yard run into United's penalty area. The ball didn't follow him.
21 mins: United have had possession for the best part of the last two minutes, but haven't offered much of a threat. When Basel have got the ball, they've kicked it straight out to give United an attacking throw-in.
22.5 mins: So a quarter of the match has gone, and not at all as anticipated.
25 mins: "Long ago I used to watch Alex Frei play for Geneva Servette," writes Mark Gardberg of the Basel forward. "He seemed total rubbish but would consistently get on the score sheet, something like a Swiss Inzaghi (without the loathsome, annoying, cheating part). And the opposite of someone who seems brilliantly talented, but couldn't score on an empty pitch. Like … who do you reckon? Carroll?" Well, I'm not sure "brilliantly talented" would be the first words that come to mind.
27 mins: United try to tip-tap the ball through the middle, but run out of space with most of Basel's team in the way. As in the first meeting with Basel, they may need Ashley Young to help them out here.
28 mins: Xhaka is booked for fouling Rooney, a fairly cynical but violence-free trip. Can he concentrate despite the yellow card? If anyone can, Xhaka can. Xhaka can. Etc.
30 mins: Terrible miss! Nani beats his man on the right and sends in a lovely low cross. Rooney, at the far post, only needs to turn it into the empty net but he over-runs the ball, miskicks and accidentally sends it back to the far post, where Park misses the target.
33 mins: The Basel pitch is very heavy and muddy. If United don't get back into the game soon, they may knacker themselves out with the effort of running about on it.
34 mins: Lovely run from Nani but his cross is too high. Rooney rescues it, and Young heads his centre over the bar. "Speaking of Chaka Khan," writes Paulo Padilha, "some nice moves from Shaqiri in midfield just now. You could say when it comes to dribbling his hips don't lie, eh? Or does it mean they do lie, as that's the whole point of dribbling?" I'd have thought that while dribbling shoulders would certainly lie, eyes as well, legs even, but hips might be tough.
35 mins: A lovely reverse pass by Giggs releases Rooney in the area, but his first-time shot isn't that great and trundles straight down the middle of goal at the keeper.
36 mins: Another chance for United. The ball breaks towards Nani, haring into the area, but the keeper hares out of it and the pair reach the ball at about the same time. Nani's shot bounces off
Sommeractually the sliding, covering Park and away.
38 mins: Basel's Park, who is having a difficult night against Nani, brings down the Portuguese wing-man right on the edge of the penalty area. Giggs rolls the free-kick across the penalty area, but Jones's shot is blocked.
39 mins: Manchester City are a goal up against Bayern Munich, and currently second in their group.
40 mins: "The Swiss might have their own way of pronouncing it, but, given Granit Xhaka's birthplace is Kosovo, I'm pretty sure he himself would use the Albanian pronunciation 'Djaka', which does open other (lesser) avenues of opportunity in the punning department," writes Oliver Farry. Spoilsport.
42 mins: Vidic has gone down holding his knee, and looks very unhappy indeed. What's more, he gave away a foul doing it.
43 mins: Streller fell on top of Vidic, having been fouled, and the knee twisted at a nasty angle. That's his night over.
43 mins: Jonny Evans has replaced Vidic, who seems much less agonised as he leaves the pitch, albeit on a stretcher.
45 mins: The first of three additional minutes is being played.
45+3 mins: Ashley Young gets booked, apparently only because the home fans demanded it.
45+3 mins: And that's half-time. Obviously it's a grim scoreline from United's point of view, but it's far from hopeless. They've had a lot of the ball, and though there are a lot of frustrated forward players in their ranks in Nani they have the game's oustanding player so far. He could create an equaliser at any moment, and could very well already have done so had Rooney not messed up his volley.
Half-time email update: "Thought you might like to know that Darragh Maloney, commentating on RTE, just called Evans a 'like for like' replacement for Vidic," reports James McNulty. "Surely the position alone isn't enough in that instance? Surely a goat is as much a like for like replacement as Norn Iron's finest?" I'll be charitable: they're both Manchester United-employed centre-backs, it's close enough.
Footballers eating food update: I'm told that Frank Lampard is having dinner at central London tapas bar Barrica, right now.
46 mins: Peeeeeeeep! They're off! Again!
48 mins: Shaqiri picks up the ball in midfield and for amoment there's an easy ball on to play, I think, Streller clean through. Shaqiri, though, ignores the pass, hangs on to the ball for much too long and then basically gives it away. He's a frustrating fella, that Shaqiri.
49 mins: Chance! Giggs plays Rooney in, down the left side of the penalty area. He checks onto his right foot and curls a shot only narrowly wide of the far post.
52 mins: Basel's first period of concerted pressure since, well, possibly ever. Steinhöfer crosses, Shaqiri picks it up at the edge of the area and tries a curler which isn't far off target (but far enough for De Gea to look very relaxed as it floated past).
53 mins: And City are now 2-0 up against Bayern Munich.
54 mins: Great save! Basel win a cheap free-kick 20 yards out and Alex Frei's effort would have dipped under the bar had De Gea not got his fingers to it.
57 mins: United need Young to look interested, and Nani to do a bit more crossing. That Rooney chance early in this half apart, it's not happening for them down the centre. They've started this half very poorly.
57 mins: Excellent tackle by Smalling, blocking the ball as Fabian Frei sent in a left-foot shot from goalscoring range. From the corner, Dragovic has a free header which he sends straight at De Gea.
59 mins: "I'm sitting here imagining Frank Lampard trying to ping olives into his own mouth from increasingly ludicrous distances, spraying them onto all the surrounding patrons, before finally getting one in via a deflection off his fork," writes Paul Fowler in response to news of the Chelsea' midfielder's tapas-eating status.
60 mins: Wonderful own-goal attempt! Nani sends in a cross from the right, which Markus Steinhöfer volleys against his own crossbar from eight yards out for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Lovely effort!
63 mins: Half an hour to go. United could do with replacing Park or Young with someone who might win a header at some point, from one of Nani's vicious crosses.
64 mins: Rooney cuts in from the right and shoots low, hard, and just the wrong side of the near post. Danny Welbeck comes on for Ashley Young. Glad to know you're an MBM reader, Mr Ferguson.
65 mins: Welbeck rolls the ball to Nani, central, who shoots over the bar from 20 yards. Napoli, meanwhile, has scored against Villarreal and as it stands both Manchester clubs are going out.
67 mins: Basel are pretty smart at winning free-kicks when no obvious contact has been made. Smalling is the latest victim of this sting.
69 mins: Shaqiri goes down, clutching his shoulder, nobody particularly near him. Either something very unlucky has happened, or he is shamelessly cheating in an attempt to win yet another free-kick. I know where my money is.
72 mins: Sommer comes out well to collect Giggs's cross. Twenty minutes to go, United still toiling. They're in very grave danger.
73 mins: Half-chance! Smalling crosses from the right, Rooney meets the ball six yards out but can't control his header. And he's offside.
75 mins: Smalling's cross goes straight out for a goal kick. As he crossed the ball, Basel had 10 players in their own penalty area. Moments earlier Welbeck had got the ball in the penalty area, and run all the way across it before giving up and shuffling the ball off to someone else. Very good pressing.
76 mins: Rooney works the ball onto his right foot, just over 20 yards out, and curls a shot goalwards. It bounces a couple of yards wide, but the keeper wouldn't have stopped it had it been on target. Which it wasn't.
77 mins: And Napoli are now 2-0 up in Spain, City apparently doomed.
78 mins: "If by 'Frank Lampard' you meant 'Wayne Rooney' and by 'fork' you meant 'Hernández', then you've succintly described Man Utd's strategy these days," writes Jijin John. "Let's hope someone can get a deflection off one of Basle's defenders."
79 mins: A little over 10 minutes to go and United are running short of ideas, and those they do have appear to involve Phil Jones playing a fairly central role.
81 mins: United's Plan B, or C, or whatever they're on to, is Federico Macheda.
82 mins: Xhaka attempts a 35-yard shot from standing. It floats harmlessly into outer space. And Park comes off, Macheda replacing him. Me, I'd have brought Valencia on for him 20 minutes ago and shifted Nani to the left. But then, I'm not a millionaire medal-laden knight of the realm, am I.
83 mins: Chaka Khan comes off, his tiredness proved by that shot a minute back, and Scott Chipperfield comes on.
84 mins: "This is what happens when your central midfield is composed of a 38-year-old winger, a famously workmanlike Korean winger, and a centre-half," rages Tom Bangay. "Playing no midfielders whatsoever was probably a MISTAKE."
GOAL! Basel 2 Manchester United 0!!!!!
84 mins: Basel's first decent effort since the ninth minute, a nice left-footed cross from the right wing by Shaqiri that bounces in the penalty area. Smalling doesn't know what to do about it, so does nothing at all (the correct answer would have been: just clear it you eejit). Frei, at the back stick, heads in from two yards.
88 mins: This is remarkable. Thinking back to those first five minutes, when it looked like United would win 152-0 with Basle only kicking the ball 152 times, all of those from kick-offs, this was just inconceivable. United have been so poor. A bit unlucky – Rooney's miss, Vidic's injury – but only Nani of their attack-minded players has played with any conviction at all.
GOAL! Basel 2 Manchester United 1! But only just!
89 mins: Welbeck's shot is excellently saved, but in a crowded penalty area the ball falls to Macheda, seven yards out. He produces one of the very best misses you've ever seen, thudding the ball into the crossbar when a goal appeared inevitable, but Jones heads the ball back goalwards and by the time the goalkeeper deals with it, it's about an inch over the line. They couldn't, could they?
90 mins: There will be three minutes of stoppage time.
90+1 mins: Valentin Stocker will replace Shaqiri for the last couple of minutes. United's goal really was very lucky indeed, bouncing between the legs of at least one defender on its way only-just-goalwards.
90+3 mins: Giggs punts the ball downfield, Welbeck flicks on, goalkeeper collects. There's one more play left in this game.
90+3 mins: Welbeck skins Abraham...
90+4 mins: But Abraham gets back and clears. United send the ball back in, but it's offside.
90+4 mins: Peeeeeep! It's all over! Manchester United are out of the Champions League, and Basel go through!
90+4 mins: Basel's players are going wild. Rooney has a bit of a "chat" with the referee, about what I don't know. He can only hope that he gets a better result in Switzerland tomorrow (when he appeals to Uefa over his three-match international ban).
Final thoughts: Ignominy. United were horribly poor here, and got what they deserved. In two games against Basel, both of them astonishing in their way, they were very lucky to get one point. There is no reason other than finances for them to claim superiority over tonight's opponents.
Basel were fortunate, of course, to score with their first shot, benefiting in doing so from a defensive injury and a goalkeeping error. But from there, they did little wrong. Their keeper looked particularly assured throughout, and was unlucky with United's goal – this was something of a contrast with his opposite number. United looked a limited team tonight, packed with mediocre performers, and suddenly their season is looking painfully close to over, even before the Christmas crackers are pulled. If City's league form continues, and if they win the FA Cup third-round derby, United will have nothing left to play for but the Europa League.
The worst thing about it is that the three other teams in the group – with all due deference – were a load of old rubbish. Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati did not exactly constitute a group of death, but United have turned it into a prolonged period of self-strangulation. I can only imagine the ferocity of the hairdryer United's squad is experiencing right now.