Manchester United were unable to come back from a two goal deficit as Istanbul Basaksehir became the first team to take points of them in this season’s Champions League group stage. Although this was not a severe set-back in terms of progressing from the group, the display will do little to quell the growing angst in relation to United’s inconsistent performances.
The Champions League has been a welcome relief for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team in recent weeks with victories over Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig being the highlights of United’s indifferent start to the season. But the mistake-ridden goals that the visitors gifted their hosts aligned more closely to United’s patchy domestic home form than their impressive travails in Europe.
That said, it is rare for United to slip up away from home. This was their first defeat away from Old Trafford (not counting games at neutral venues) since losing to Liverpool in the league in January. Credit must therefore go to Basaksehir who took their chances to obtain a famous win: their first in the competition at this stage with it coming against such illustrious opponents.
Story of the game
The now near-constant guesses around how United are going to setup were present again and not fully answered until past kickoff. Midfield diamond or not, Solskjaer is clearly aiming for his forward players to be fluid positionally. He started Donny van de Beek alongside Nemanja Matic in the deeper positions with Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata closer to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Dean Henderson was also given his first start in the competition and his first involvement was collecting the ball from the back of his net. The United goalkeeper was blameless as Basaksehir went ahead via a simple move that embarrassed the visiting defence in the 13th minute.
A punt up-field by Edin Visca, which originated from a United short corner, invited Demba Ba to sprint from his own half and collect the ball without a United defender in sight. He was free to advance at goal, with only Matic trailing in tow, before tucking the ball past Henderson. No wonder the United goalkeeper was furious, his defence had been on the other side of the Bosphorus.
The goal came against the run of play as it had been United that started the brighter, with Luke Shaw striking one shot just wide of Mert Gunok’s goal after neat build-up play. Rafael, the former United defender, blocked well to deny another effort from Martial.
Mistakes keep creeping into United’s play, and this time it was Fernandes who allowed the home side to double their lead. The Portuguese midfielder miscontrolled the ball, popping it back to Mata who was outmuscled by Irfan Kahveci. The left-sided attacker pulled a low cross towards Ba but the former Newcastle United striker let the ball travel through to Visca who fired home from close range.
United regained some ground a mere two minutes later when Shaw cut inside Rafael and floated a cross for Martial to guide a header into the far corner. It was a moment of goalscoring brilliance that this United are capable of. It meant that they went in at the break at least with something positive to show from a challenging half.
Solskjaer opted to take Axel Tuanzebe off at half time, possibly a finger pointing exercise from Basaksehir’s opening goal or simply because he was on a yellow card, and placed Matic into the back line. Fernandes drew a diving save from Gunok following a free kick as United pushed for an equaliser with Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani both thrown on to mount a challenge.
What came next was plenty of possession for the away side but little zip and few chances. Solskjaer’s side lacked the pace and imagination to cut open a Basaksehir defence that remained compact with seven players sat on the edge of their own area. There was extra determination in the way in which former Liverpool defender, Martin Skrtel, dogidly tried to keep United at bay.
It was in the second minute of stoppage time that United came closest to an equaliser. A Mehmet Topal sliced clearance from a United corner travelled goalwards but was kept out by a hooked clearance from Alexandru Epureanu on the goalline. Basaksehir just about hung on and the roar from those in orange at full time said as much.
I.Basaksehir: Gunok; Rafael, Skrtel, Epureanu, Bolingoli; Aleksic, Ozcan (Topal 87), Kahveci (Ponck 90); Visca, Ba (Gulbrandsen 79), Turuc.
Man Utd: Henderson; Wan-Bissaka (Fosu-Mensah 76), Tuanzebe (McTominay 46), Maguire, Shaw; Matic; Van de Beek (Pogba 61), Mata (Cavani 61), Fernandes; Martial, Rashford (Greenwood 76).
Referee: Davide Massa (Italy).