Sir Alex Ferguson will be without seven key players for tonight’s visit of FC Basel in the Champions League, as Manchester United attempt to record a first victory in this season’s competition. Ferguson confirmed that strikers Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández will miss the tie, while Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidić , Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva are also absent for last year’s finalists.
Fresh injury concerns this week add to a growing list of absentees at Old Trafford, although Ferguson was always likely to rotate his side against one of the competitions lesser lights. Indeed, with United – on paper at least – drawn in a relatively weak group, Ferguson may use early matches to ensure fringe squad players achieve some playing time.
To that end Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Anders Lindegaard and Park Ji-Sung could play, while Fábio da Silva is likely to come into the side at right-back. And although Ferguson insists that Basel will pose a threat, United supports will expect a much-changed side once again, with Ryan Giggs partnering Michael Carrick in an open midfield, and Phil Jones reprising his weekend role at the heart of United’s central defence.
“Having a squad gives them a better chance of winning things, so they’ve accepted (the squad system) a long time ago,” Ferguson said on Monday.
“And they want to do well when they get the opportunity because as a group we all want to do well. They all have a part to play in the context of the number of games you have in the Premier League, Champions League, League Cup, FA Cup, it’s an exhausting season unless you use your squad. We have been consistent in the Champions League, our form away from home has been outstanding and we hope we can do better this year and win it, that’s the aim of this club all the time.”
“They’ve always been among the premier teams from Switzerland [which] has been producing very good young players for quite a few years now. Basel too have very good experience in Europe, so I expect to see that from them tomorrow.”
In Basel United faces an attractive side, unlike – some might argue – the Swiss national side at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Yet the odds seem stacked against the Swiss, with United having won 32 and drawn just three in an unbeaten streak at Old Trafford that dates back to Chelsea’s controversial win in April 2010.
Yet in Alexander Frei, Basel boasts a striker whose record at both club and international level is impressive. The locally-born forward has scored 48 times in 64 games since returning from Borussia Dortmund in 2009, while he has a one-in-two record over 84 international caps for Switzerland.
“We’re coming here as outsiders,” Frei is told Uefa.com.
“We’re not expecting to make the impossible possible, but why shouldn’t we achieve something? We’re going to be fully committed and give 100 per cent for the whole 90 minutes and we’ll see what happens.
“When I left Borussia Dortmund for Basel, I was hoping to experience Champions League fever again, and I’ve been able to do so twice in two seasons. I’d love to play on at this level for another three or four years to hopefully play at other big European grounds too like Barcelona’s and [Real] Madrid’s.”
Meanwhile, German coach Thorsten Fink insists his side arrives at Old Trafford with a positive mindset, despite being classed as rank-outsiders. Basel earned a 1-1 draw on the last occasion these sides met in 2002. However, Fink is missing key playmaker, and outstanding young prospect, Xherdan Shaqiri through suspension
Fink was a member of the Bayern Munich that United famously beat 2-1 at Camp Nou in the 1999 Champions League final. But the coach, who replaced former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross as Basel’s manager in 2009, inists the game is about points, not revenue for ’99.
“We haven’t come here to sit and watch, we’re here to play,” claimed Fink.
“It’s going to be a challenge but we’re looking to get something out the game. To do that we’ll need to be tight at the back as United are clearly very strong in attack. They’re one of the favourites for the competition alongside Barcelona, but we’ve got experience, good young players and we won’t play with any fear. We’ll see what happens.
“There is no question of me trying to get even for [the 1999 UEFA Champions League final defeat with FC Bayern München]. I’m here as a coach, I’m glad to be here and so are the players. I have great memories of that game even though we lost, as I always think that everything that hurts you makes you stronger.
“We went on to win the Champions League in 2001 so that 1999 defeat definitely made Bayern stronger. We played well that day [in 1999] but it proved that if you let your guard down for a moment against a team like United you get punished.”
And even if that United team contains a host of changes from the exciting side that won its first five Premier League games in a row, the smart money still lies on a comfortable win for the Reds tonight.
Manchester United v FC Basel, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm, 27 September 2011.
United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Fabio, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park; Welbeck, Berbatov. Subs from: de Gea, Amos, Fletcher, Fryers, Pogba, Nani, Anderson, Diouf, Young, Owen.
Basel (4-4-2): Sommer; Steinhöfer, Dragovic, Abraham, Park; F Frei, Cabral, Xhaka, Zoua; A Frei, Streller. Subs from: Ajeti, Schürpf, Huggel, Streller, Yapi, Chipperfield, Stocker, Voser, Xhaka, Herzog, Kusunga, Colomba. Buess, Andrist, Kovac, Tembo, Wieser, Kwang-Ryong.