Manchester United suffered a shock defeat away at Basel in Wednesday’s Champions League encounter at St. Jakob-Park, with Michael Lang scoring the only goal of the game in its dying minutes. It was a deserved winner for the Swiss hosts, who recovered from a poor first half performance to dominate the second.
Upon reflection, José Mourinho will surely feel that his side should’ve killed the game off before the break, when United chances flowed thick and fast. Romelu Lukaku was denied in a one-on-one and Marouane Fellaini had a looping header cleared off the goalline within the first quarter-hour, as the tone was set for a one-sided but ultimately frustrating opening period.
Fellaini was at the culmination of much of United’s attacking play, and soon headed a Daley Blind free-kick wide of the target. The Belgian midfielder should’ve made more of a deep Anthony Martial cross shortly before the break; as it was, he could only glance it against Tomáš Vaclík’s post.
There was no doubt that United were unfortunate not to be ahead as the two sides left the field, with Basel’s sporadic sorties into the opposing half having invariably failed to test Sergio Romero. The hosts were soon counting their blessings again, when captain Marek Suchý bravely diverted a Marcos Rojo piledriver onto his own crossbar.
However, they improved vastly in the second half, as United’s concentration wandered and their control waned. Basel’s first real chance came when Renato Steffen darted inside off the right flank, only to curl a low left-footed shot wide of the far post. A sloppy clearance from Matteo Darmian five minutes later bought Mohamed Elyounoussi the space to whip a floating cross in from the left, though Lang’s header bounced back off the United bar.
Mourinho looked understandably displeased, with the introductions of Marcus Rashford, Nemanja Matić and Zlatan Ibrahimović failing to turn the tide. Had it not been for some impressive defending by Rojo on his return, Basel could’ve been ahead much earlier. As it was, United's luck only ran out in the final couple of minutes, when Lang beat Blind to the ball and tapped Raoul Perretta's perfect low cross home at the far post.
United are still top of the group heading into its final matchday, though Mourinho’s men are now only three points clear of both Basel and upcoming opponents CSKA Moscow. A point would be enough to guarantee progression, though things are now a little nervier than we’d all have hoped.