United Fluff Their Lines but Remain Well Placed in Champions League
Manchester United will need to take their final game of the Champions League group stage seriously after a shock loss at Basel on Wednesday put their qualification on ice.
Despite winning their opening four games of the group, United were still short of the mark required to guarantee their progress to the last 16. A draw at Basel would have done that, and they were on course to achieve their goal until Michael Lang popped up in the 89th minute to pinch the win for Basel.
With CSKA Moscow claiming a win at home to Benfica, there is the possibility of three sides finishing the group stage on 12 points.
United remain in the driving seat, as it would take a 6-0 loss at home to CSKA to deny them a place in the knockout stages – and manager Jose Mourinho is refusing to panic.
“I don’t even think we need to draw,” Mourinho said, per the Daily Mail. “We can lose by some numbers and still go through.”
Mourinho has every right to remain relaxed, as on another night they would have racked up a cricket score in Switzerland.
With Paul Pogba making them tick as smoothly as a Swiss timepiece, United totally dominated Basel in the first half. They carved out a host of chances, 15 in all, and hit the woodwork on two occasions.
But once Pogba was withdrawn with 25 minutes remaining, the momentum shifted and Basel grabbed their shock win with time running down.
CSKA do not possess the weapons to run up a big score against United, especially at Old Trafford, but it is a distraction Mourinho could have done without.
He will be determined to take at least a point to ensure his side top the table, but with Real Madrid a potential opponent on account of them taking the runners-up spot in their group, it’s fair to say there won’t be any walkovers in the knockout stages.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte may have bemoaned the fixture scheduling ahead of his side’s long trip to Qarabag, but they did exactly what was required to book their passage to the knockout stages.
Goals from Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas and a brace from Willian secured a 4-0 win, which allowed Conte to board the plane back to England in a contended frame of mind. With Liverpool on the horizon on Saturday, the Italian is unlikely to remain contented for too much longer – but with Champions League progress secured, he can turn his full attention to the Premier League for the busy winter period.
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