Champions League

Fix-it Fellaini gets United off the mark

2017-09-12 22:59
Marouane Fellaini (Getty Images)

Manchester - Substitute Marouane Fellaini proved an unlikely source of inspiration as Manchester United comfortably defeated Basel 3-0 on their return to the Champions League on Tuesday.

Fellaini, a replacement for the injured Paul Pogba, gave United a 35th-minute lead at a drizzly Old Trafford and teed up Marcus Rashford for the hosts' third goal after Romelu Lukaku had struck early in the second period.

It was United's first Champions League game since December 2015, with Jose Mourinho's side having engineered a return to the competition by winning the Europa League last season.

Basel had previously proved a thorn in United's side, eliminating them from the Champions League in 2011-12, and they inflicted a surprise defeat upon Mourinho in the first European game of his second Chelsea stint in 2013.

While Raphael Wicky's side were pushed aside without too much fuss in this Group A opener, Pogba's premature exit with an apparent hamstring injury meant Mourinho could not reflect on an entirely satisfactory night.

With Ashley Young coming into the United XI at right-back in place of Antonio Valencia to make his first start of the season, Pogba inherited the captain's armband from the Ecuadorian.

But the Frenchman's debut as United skipper would last just 18 minutes after he abruptly clutched the back of his left leg and was obliged to hobble off in disgust, with Fellaini joining the fray.

United had been getting on top and they went close to taking the lead when Henrikh Mkhitaryan jabbed Lukaku's low cross against the post and then saw his follow-up smothered by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.

Luca Zuffi gave the hosts a scare when he sliced wide in front of the Stretford End after Chris Smalling failed to deal with a high ball, but two minutes later United opened the scoring.

The home fans could have been forgiven for wondering if it was still 2015, when the stadium last hosted a Champions League game, as Young sidestepped Blas Riveros and whipped in a perfect cross that Fellaini headed home.

Quiet in the first half, Anthony Martial came to life early in the second, beating Manuel Akanji and Taulant Xhaka before dispatching a skidding shot that Vaclik turned behind.

The resulting corner, taken short, yielded United's second goal as Daley Blind's drilled cross was emphatically headed in at the back post by Lukaku, who notched his first goal in the tournament proper.

Frequently maligned for his ungainliness, Fellaini by now was running the show, freed to roam forward by the anchoring presence of Nemanja Matic behind him.

Martial should have made it 3-0 from the Belgium midfielder's cut-back midway through the second half, only to steer his shot off-target from close range.

Lukaku and Young both worked Vaclik, while Mohamed Elyounoussi tested David de Gea's concentration at the other end after cutting inside the sliding Victor Lindelof, before United did claim their third in the 84th minute.

Mkhitaryan completely miscued his attempt at a side-foot finish from Fellaini's right-sided cross, but substitute Rashford arrived behind his team-mate to scuff a shot into the ground and over the despairing Vaclik.

Off the pace domestically, Swiss champions Basel have now gone nine European games without a win.

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Fixtures
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Sevilla v Maribor, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan 20:45
Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk, Etihad Stadium 20:45
APOEL v Tottenham Hotspur, Neo GSP 20:45
Spartak Moskva v Liverpool, Otkrytiye Arena 20:45
Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid, Signal-Iduna-Park 20:45
Monaco v Porto, Stade Louis II. 20:45
Napoli v Feyenoord, Stadio San Paolo 20:45
Besiktas v RB Leipzig, Vodafone Stadyumu 20:45
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Qarabag v Roma, Bakı Olimpiya Stadionu 18:00
Juventus v Olympiakos Piraeus, Allianz Stadium 20:45
Sporting CP v Barcelona, Estadio Jose Alvalade 20:45
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea, Estadio Wanda Metropolitano 20:45
PSG v Bayern Munchen, Parc des Princes 20:45
Basel v Benfica, St. Jakob-Park 20:45
Anderlecht v Celtic, Stade Constant Vanden Stock 20:45
CSKA Moskva v Manchester United, VEB Arena 20:45
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu 20:45
Manchester City v Napoli, Etihad Stadium 20:45
Maribor v Liverpool, Ljudski vrt 20:45
APOEL v Borussia Dortmund, Neo GSP 20:45
Spartak Moskva v Sevilla, Otkrytiye Arena 20:45
RB Leipzig v Porto, Red Bull Arena 20:45
Monaco v Besiktas, Stade Louis II. 20:45
Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk, Stadion Feijenoord 20:45
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Qarabag v Atletico Madrid, Bakı Olimpiya Stadionu 18:00
Juventus v Sporting CP, Allianz Stadium 20:45
Bayern Munchen v Celtic, Allianz-Arena 20:45
Barcelona v Olympiakos Piraeus, Camp Nou 20:45
Benfica v Manchester United, Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (da Luz) 20:45
Anderlecht v PSG, Stade Constant Vanden Stock 20:45
Chelsea v Roma, Stamford Bridge 20:45
CSKA Moskva v Basel, VEB Arena 20:45
Tuesday, 31 October 2017
Celtic v Bayern Munchen, Celtic Park 21:45
Sporting CP v Juventus, Estadio Jose Alvalade 21:45
Atletico Madrid v Qarabag, Estadio Wanda Metropolitano 21:45
Manchester United v Benfica, Old Trafford 21:45
PSG v Anderlecht, Parc des Princes 21:45
Basel v CSKA Moskva, St. Jakob-Park 21:45
Olympiakos Piraeus v Barcelona, Stadio Georgios Karaiskaki 21:45
Roma v Chelsea, Stadio Olimpico 21:45
Wednesday, 01 November 2017
Besiktas v Monaco, Vodafone Stadyumu 19:00
Liverpool v Maribor, Anfield 21:45
Porto v RB Leipzig, Estadio Do Dragao 21:45
Sevilla v Spartak Moskva, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan 21:45
Shakhtar Donetsk v Feyenoord, Oblasny SportKomplex Metalist 21:45
Borussia Dortmund v APOEL, Signal-Iduna-Park 21:45
Napoli v Manchester City, Stadio San Paolo 21:45
Tottenham Hotspur v Real Madrid, Wembley Stadium 21:45
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