Basel defeated Manchester United 1-0 thanks to a goal from Michael Lang to keep their hopes of getting out of Group A very much alive.
United had the better of the play and hit the woodwork on two occasions in the first half, but never managed to find a way through Basel's well-organised defence and were punished as a result.
Basel could pose some difficulties should they get out of the group
After taking all three points on Wednesday, Basel will now need to hope United turn around and do them a favour in two weeks. Basel sit level on points with CSKA Moscow, and will have to hope United win or draw with the Russians on the group's final matchday while the Swiss can win away to Benfica. If that set of results should come to pass, Basel will move on to the Round of 16.
United had much the better of the game in the first half, but the hosts grew into the tie. After the restart, they dominated proceedings, creating chance after chance until finally finding a way past Sergio Romero. Serey Die and Renato Steffen each had stormers, with the two seemingly in competition with each other to win man of the match only for Lang to pop up and score the winner. Basel have been inconsistent in this group, losing at home to CSKA and playing really poorly away to Old Trafford. However, on the basis of this performance, and the atmosphere generated by the fans at Saint-Jakob Park, they could be a tough draw for anyone if they can get out of Group A.
United simply not good enough
The visitors played well in the opening period and can feel unlucky not to have found the opening goal. Anthony Martial and Marcos Rojo both hit the woodwork in the first half, while Marouane Fellaini had a shot cleared off the line, and Martial and Romelu Lukaku each had one vs one opportunities saved. It changed after the break for United.
They sat off Basel, giving up the possession battle as well as the territorial one. The hosts looked like scoring almost every time they strode forward, with Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian both having very poor games. It seemed like the Reds would hold on for the draw that would have been enough for them to seal top spot in Group A, only to fall asleep one too many times defensively. United have rode their luck in the group, particularly in both matches against Benfica. On Wednesday, that luck ran out.
Manager Jose Mourinho will be doubly frustrated to have blown that lead because it makes the early part of December even busier than it would already have been. United travel to the Emirates on 2nd December, then host CSKA and Manchester City on the 5th and 10th respectively. Had United already sealed top spot, the CSKA match would have been a dead rubber game where young players could have helped rotate the squad so everyone would be fresh for the crunch Manchester Derby. Instead, that match means something and will stretch United's resources.
Paul Pogba's importance illustrated once again
Pogba made consecutive starts for the first time since September and was the heartbeat of everything good for United in the opening period. He strode around with his usual swagger on the ball, and his scything pass in the first half created a brilliant chance that Lukaku could not finish. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, Pogba is still recovering from injury and does not fully have his legs back yet.
In the second period, he looked tired and was not dictating play the way he had in the first half. Mourinho made the decision to bring him off for Nemanja Matic 65 minutes in and United's play suffered for it.
United continue to get welcome back stars
The result at Saint-Jakob Park may have been frustrating, but Manchester United did continue getting healthier. Marcos Rojo made his return from injury and lasted the full 90 minutes, although he did not emerge blameless from the passage of play that led to the goal. Once Eric Bailly is back fully fit, United will finally have their first-choice central defensive pairing ready for the remainder of the season.
While his legs did start to go in the second period, Pogba played more than 60 minutes for the second time in the space of the week, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic once again made an appearance from the bench. Ibrahimovic's touch looked rusty, but that's to be expected, considering the length of his injury lay-off. The more that those players coming off extended stints on the sidelines get meaningful game action, the better they will look and the better the team will perform. At the end of the day, that is the silver lining for United in this disappointing performance.