Just between the two of us, dear reader, I was rather hoping to be assigned to the Bayern Munich-Manchester City fiesta tonight, but hey ho, you can't, as Mick Jagger once advised us, always get what you want. So let's just make the best of this, shall we? Besides, chances are we're going to see lots of goals: Basel have been banging them in in Switzerland, where they have also been shipping plenty, and United, of course, have been in free-scoring form too this season, albeit with significantly stronger sides than the one they've put out tonight. Speaking of which, hats off to Ferguson for plumping for Welbeck rather than Owen or Berbatov in the absence of Rooney and Chicharito: the youngster deserves a chance to re-establish himself after suffering a cruel injury just as he seemed to be really getting into his groove earlier this season.
The other youngster whose presence is a cause of delight if, of course, Phil Jones. What a player! It has always struck me as curious that although the most venerated player in the history of English football is probably Bobby Moore, the football culture in England has generally been hostile to players who stride forward with the ball like Moore did (the Republic of Ireland were able to capture Preston-Born Mark Lawrenson). Rio Ferdinand is comfortable on the ball, of course, but nowhere near as enterprising as Moore or Jones. And what's so endearing about Jones is not merely his skill and ambition, but also the aggression with which he stomps forward: reminiscent of Lucio, if you ask me, though Jones shows signs of being an even more accomplished defender than the great Brazilian. It is genuinely exciting to watch him.
What? Oh right. Here.
Manchester United: De Gea; Fabio, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Giggs; Welbeck
Subs: Lindegard, Owen, Berbatov, Park, Nani, Fletcher, Diouf
Basel: Sommer; Steinhofer, Abraham, Dragovic, Park Joo Ho; F Frei, G Xhaka, Cabral, Zoua; A Frei; Streller
Subs: Colomba, Ajeti, SChurpf, Chipperfield, T Xhaka, Kovac, Pak
Ref: P Tagliavento (Italy)
"Is it just me, or do Owen and Berbatov look like they're wearing sports bikinis in the picture you've got at the top of the MBM? It's
very disturbing," purrs Nick Honeywell, who with a name like that may have worn sports bikinis himself, possibly in a James Bond movie.
"Phil Jones to be better than Lucio defensively? That's a big shout Mr. Doyle," blurts Robert Morse. "The colossal performance he put in for Inter against Barca in the semi-final two seasons ago will take some beating... " That was indeed an immense display from an immense player: but I can envisage Jones reaching similar heights, his slightly shoddy defending against Peter Crouch for Stoke's equaliser at the weekend notwithstanding.
"Here comes the awe-inspiring Champions League anthem," roars Sky's commentator. I find the levels of awe it inspires depend very much on the arena: I remember being less than overwhelmed when it was blasted out to a half-full Tolka Park before Shelbourne versus Sloga Jugomagnat in 2000, for instance. Anyone else sample supposed glamour in less than salubrious surrounds?
1 min: Basel kick off. Within five seconds they have lost possession.
3 min: In fairness, those opening few seconds were misleading: thereafter the Swiss have looked very assured and commendably enterprising. They even forged a good opening for Streller, but the striker botched his shot form the edge of the area.
5 min: Basel still dinking the ball around expansively. United yet to find any rhythm. "No problem with Wellbeck being picked - at all - but Berbatov has essentially been overlooked for.... Michael Carrick," booms Stuart Lambert. "Giggs should be in the centre, doing Scholes's role of last season, dictating the passing while Anderson does the running, but instead he is playing up front. If I were overlooked for Michael Carrick - in any walk of life - I would eat my own face." Unless I haven't noticed you out there on the pitch, Stuart, I put it to you that Sir Alex Ferguson has indeed overlooked you for Carrick. Get gobbling.
6 min: Well, well. Basel are clearly on top and they should be in front. They carefully dissected United again just now and Streller put Fabian Frei through with a clever ball between Jones and Ferdinand. Alas, the forward's finishing was again appalling, as he slashed high and wide from the 18 yards.
8 min: United should have scored! Young received the ball wide on the left, shuffled on to his right foot and whipped in a superb cross. Valencia met it at the back post but couldn't direct his header on goal.
10 min: United have jacked up the tempo and are making inroads down the flanks. Welbeck went close just now after a slick through-ball by Giggs and moments later Valencia looked like racing into a shooting opportunity before being denied by an excellent last-ditch tackle by Park Joo Ho.
12 min: Corner to Basel after a Zoua shot from distance deflects off Young. De Gea claims the corner comfortably.
13 min: Fabio sloppily gives the ball away to Cabral, who slips it through to Streller. The whistle goes for offside, but Streller fires at goal any way, hitting the post. Robin Van Persie would have been sent off for that. Streller is not booked.
14 min: Good first-time cross by Valencia, fine first-time shot by Young. Straight at keeper, however.
GOAL! United 1-0 Basel (Welbeck 16') United swarm forward and get the goal that they have been threatening over the last few minutes. Fabio joined in the attack decisively, charging into the box before being picked out by Valencia. The Brazilian cut the ball towards he penalty spot, Giggs helped it on to Welbeck, who scuffed a shot into the net off the post.
GOAL! United 2-0 Basel (Welbeck 17') Contest over. United switched the ball from side to side, then Giggs aimed a low cross towards the penalty spot, where Welbeck this time finished with aplomb.
19 min: As Gary Neville is commentary praises Welbeck's movement and intelligence, and insists he will become a regular England international is he can consistently finish as well as he had done tonight, Alex Amponsah comments: "Looks like Berbatov better get used to that bench."
22 min: Basel show they are unbowed. Nice interplay precedes a reasonable shot from the edge of the area by Alex Frei, though it misses the target. Unless the target was a bearded bloke in Row F.
24 min: Oh! If these guys could finish this would be a proper match! Again Basel cut United apart with very slinky play, but again their concluding shot was woeful: it was their best chance of the game but Alex Frei banged wide from 14 yards.
26 min: That's a sloppy kick by De Gea and it puts Basel on the attack again. But Zoua blasts wide from close range. The Swiss could be in front by now.
29 min: Bafé Gomis has put Lyon 1-0 up at home to Dinamo Zagreb, while Marek Hamsik has given Napoli the lead against Villarreal. If you don't want updates from tonight's other games in Europe, look away now. Oops! I got those sentences the wrong way around, didn't I?
30 min: This is a really open game, with both sides attacking every time they get the ball. I may have been premature when I declared "contest over" after United's second goal.
33 min: A sustained bout of Basel pressure comes to an end when Welbeck gets back to help out in defence and is fouled.
35 min: Valencia pounces on dithering in defence by Park Joo Ho, and United work the ball to Welbeck. This time the striker's low shot is too close to the keeper.
39 min:Cabral chops down Young just outside the Basel box. Dangerous freekick looming ...
40 min: Giggs curls the freekick into the wall. And Basel race clear, until Carrick curtails their counter-attacking ways. For now.
42 min: Superb save by Sommer! Young dashed down the left and pulled back for Welback, who couldn't connect but the ball ran to Valencia, whose shot low from eight yards. Sommer was falling the other way but stuck out a leg to scrap the ball to safety.
45 min: Welbeck, Valencia and Young are looking very menacing every time they get the ball. Except when they wander into an offside position, as Valencia did just now, ruining another threatening move.
Half-time: Well that was a strange, entertaining half. Neither side have been particularly bothered about defending and both could have scored a hat-full, especially Basel who created more chances but at the moment are playing like they couldn't finish their dinner.
Thought for the day, courtesy of Paul Taylor: "After but a little thought I have concluded that one factor playing into Barcelona's current dominance is the fact that in our lifetimes the number of financially solid clubs has grown faster than the number of good players in them. A generation or two ago a good club could dominate for years, because there was a much smaller number of teams who could attract and keep the best players. More recently, a quick influx of wealth into the sport has increased the number of clubs that are financially attractive to players, with a consequent spreading out of the talent pool. Today, then, a club who can somehow put together both a lot of stars and a good coach/system (read: Barca) will stand out and will triumph. But I think the player pool will eventually catch up and fill the available slots, due to the ever-increasing popularity of football worldwide and the ability to spot (and instantly promote to all) good young players from anywhere on earth. And then, I suppose, it will be down to the coaches and the systems, which are much harder to create from scratch."
47 min: Basel are on the attack again. Let's see if they can find a new way to balls it up.
50 min: Magnificent save by De Gea! Yet again Basel cut United open -aided by some sloppiness by Fabio - and Streller finds himself clean through on De Gea. He tries to slot it low to the keeper's right but De Gea sticks out a left to divert it over the bar! At least Basel got it on target, which constitutes progress.
53 min: United venture forward. Valencia wins a corner. Giggs takes it short, engages in some winsome interplay with Young and then fizzes a long one towards Welbeck at the near post, but Sommer intervenes smartly.
56 min: Streller - with his confidence in his shooting being, um, shot - finds himself in front of goal 18 yards out and decides to pass rather than open fire. Ferdinand intercedes.
GOAL! United 2-1 Basel (F Frei 58) At last! Streller beat Ferdinand to an inswinging corner. De Gea made a decent save but the rebound fell to Fabian Frei, who smashed it into off the post from 10 yards. Game on!
GOAL! United 2-2 Basel (A Frei 60') That is thoroughly deserved! Moments earlier Alex Frei had been denied a goalscoring chance after Ferdinand took him down. The ref waved play on, Basel won it back and when Streller pulled free off Evra down the right, he delivered a perfect cross to Alex Frei. Unmarked in the centre, the striker aimed a fine header past De Gea.
63 min: United are looking more shambolic than they have at any time all season. They can't cope with the movement of Basel's two striker, nor particularly their wingers. The Swiss interplay has been swift and incisive and now that they've found their shooting boots, United are in real trouble. They could do with Rooney and Chicharito, but most of all they've been missing Chris Smalling.
65 min: Evra doesn't know what he's doing on the left. Strller takes advantage of his disoriented state to canter into a crossing position ... but then misdirects his delivery.
67 min: In a bid to match Basel's dynamism in midfield, Ferguson replaces Giggs with Park. "A generation or two, only champions entered the European Cup," notes Marek Miernik. "Indeed, it was more likely then than it is now for the least financially well off were able to compete. Comparing variables, you could argue an investment in training costs vs. Transfer spend/wage analysis to work out how much talent there is against financial implications. You'd need more than one thought for the day to quantify."
69 min: Fabio is injured. He's replaced by Nani. Valencia goes to right-back. "Interesting thought for the day, courtesy of Paul Taylor," approves Patrick Cullen. "If you see things in a purely way, with the club as a business and the players it's primary assets, then his conclusion about the depth of the player pool evening out the differences in strength between clubs seems to point the way toward free market capitalism morphing into an egalitarian global league of equal societiess, limited only by their ability to get the most out of their primary assets, their people. Capitalism, the game that ate itself..."
71 min: Xhaka booked for a shoddy tackle on Young. In other news, here's a Champions League gallery for you to have gander at.
73 min: United are on the front foot, for the first time in the second half. But when it breaks down, Basel rip forward and every time they do that, united look jittery.
75 min: Penalty to Basel as Valencia takes down Streller following more defensive uncertainty buy United, especially Jones.
GOAL! United 2-3 Basel (A Frei, pen, 76') Frei sends De Gea the wrong way and rockets the ball into the top corner. This has been a highly improbable, thoroughly merited turnaround. Now can they see the job through?
78 min: No sign of Owen or Berbatov warming up ...
79 min: If Lucio is reading this: I admit it, I may have been premature.
80 min: This has been a very accomplished performance so far by Basel; they've played with panache, poise and, eventually, penetration. Now they are having to defend as United apply pressure but so far they are doing that comfortably.
81 min: Basel substitution: Streller, who has been splendid, is replaced by Kwang Ryong Pak, who is celebrating his 19th birthday today. There could be some unforgettable celebrations round his way in 10 minutes or so.
82 min: Dimitar Berbatov has about eight minutes to rescue United. He's just come on for Anderson.
83 min: In 37 years of management Alex Ferguson has never lost a game after being two goals up. His team nearly snatched an equaliser just now but Welbeck inexplicably missed a cross at the near post.
84 min: Basel are looking very assured. They have shown no signs of nerves or doubt tonight. A brilliant display. So far. "First Man Utd steal Arsenal's passing play: Now they steal their shambolic defensive organisation," guffaws Jijn John..
86 min: Good work by Young down the left, right up until he over-hit the cross. Basel welly clear.
87 mins: Jones, seeking to atone for some slipshod defending (and after my big build-up, to boot!), rages forward and eventually feeds Young. He goes down in the box and the crowd appeal for a penalty, but the ref's unmoved. "It's heartening to see that Europe didn't get the memo about Manchester's place at the centre of the football universe," Chortles Niall Mullen.
88 min: Berbatov strains to get his head to a dainty Jones cross, but Sommer saves.
89 min: Basel change: A Frei off, Taulant Xhaka on. "As a United fan, I am very much glad that this is happening today," claims Pramod Hegde. "I was oh so worried with United fans and journalists getting carried away "Geez. This team is so brilliant", when in reality, technically we have been found wanting in the center of the midfield! (Even the Bolton game, after Cleverly was subbed!) Better now than a post-December meltdown."
GOAL! United 3-3 Basel (Young 90') Wonderful deep cross from Nani, leaving Young to nod into the net at the back post.
90+1 min: Ooooh! Nani pings in another sumptuous cross. Welbeck gets a glancing header to it but it flashes inches past the post! There will be at least three more minutes of this ...
90+2 min: A break in play as Steinhofer and Young receive treatment following a collision.
90+3 min: Wow! De Gea is darn near caught out by a Pedro Mendes-style volley from inside the Basel half! Fortunately for the Spaniard the ball drops inches wide!
90+5 min: Well into Fergie time now ...
90+6 min: United send a Hail Mary into the Basel box. Berbatov heads it down ... then it comes back to him off a defender ... and he blazes it into the side-netting from close range.
Full-time: What an unexpected treat that was. Basel attacked United from the off and refused to be cowed by poxy finishing and United taking a two goal lead. With style and verve they came back and clambered to the verge of a memorable victory, only to be undone by a superb Nani cross and young header in the 90th minute. Basel remain top of the group, however, and United are third.