United face FC Basel tomorrow night in matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since a 1-1 draw with them in 2003. FC Basel sit atop the group after beating Romanian outfit Otelul Galati but if United can snatch 3 points tomorrow, they will leapfrog them and jump to the top. Statistics would suggest that United will gain a comfortable victory tomorrow but with experienced striker Alexander Frei in their ranks, they have the potential to cause some damage if they are given the opportunity and with 10 goals in their first 2 domestic games, goalscoring doesn't seem to elude them.
As is quite seemingly tradition with United, our medical table is stocked full of players. Rooney (Hamstring), Smalling (Groin), Rafael (Shoulder), Evans (Ankle), Cleverley (Ankle), Vidic (Calf), Carrick (Leg) and Hernandez (Dead Leg) are all out of the fixture and United will field a less than full strength squad tomorrow. It is very likely that we should see Berbatov leading the front line but with only 4 goals in 22 European appearances, he has never fully settled in the European environment. Playing at Old Trafford should play into the hands of the Bulgarian considering his goalscoring form last year at home, with 5 against Blackburn and 3 against Liverpool helping him on his way to winning the golden boot. As to who his playing partner will be, the return of Danny Welbeck is exciting to see but I don't think that SAF will risk giving him a start and we should see either Owen or Macheda partner Berbatov up front.
Defensively, United are rather limited for options. Phil Jones will likely partner Rio Ferdinand in the middle and I anticipate that Fabio and Evra will occupy the full back positions. However, SAF seems to like using Antonio Valencia at right-back and considering he is struggling to find a starting spot with the form of Nani and Young so far this season, SAF might choose to use this as a chance to give Tony a full 90 minutes. He has only recently returned from injury once again but considering how well he returned from a horrible ankle break last season, I don't think that the injury will hold him back. With game time, he will no doubt put in some great performances and give SAF another winger option to utilise throughout the season. Fabio will likely play at left-back as to give Patrice Evra a break and his exciting forward movement will be on show for all to see as the confidence of playing at Old Trafford should bring the best out of him.
The performance I am most looking forward to seeing is Ashley Young on what would be his Champions League debut. Ashley spoke to the official website and gave a few words about his possible bow in the competition:
“Hopefully I’ll be selected and can play a part in the game and I’m looking forward to playing in the Champions League. We know it is going to be a tough game, but I’m sure if we impose ourselves on the game as we have done in every other game this season we’ll get the three points.”
He was a shadow of himself against Stoke on Saturday in comparison to the blistering form he had in previous fixtures but tomorrow night should be a good feeding ground for him. No disrespect to FC Basel but United have faced much stiffer competition at Old Trafford and came out gleaming, so I fully expect us to put in a strong performance tomorrow. The form of Nani is quickly rising up to what we all know it can be and if he can find the consistency that eluded him in the second half of last season, I expect him to be up for the Player of the Year award. SAF might choose to use someone like Park Ji Sung in order to give Nani a rest but whoever plays, I have every confidence we will walk away tomorrow unscathed and go atop of the group.
Prediction...The 1-1 draw away to Stoke at the weekend was, for me, a good result but the injuries tainted it for me. Luckily for United, we have always had a squad depth that other teams struggle with in injury crises. Dimitar Berbatov needs to take this game by the horns and prove to everyone that he is an option that should be used this season. If he puts in an anonymous performance tomorrow night, he will all but blow his chances of getting into the squad in the Premier League. Ashley Young will want to be the star of the show tomorrow, should United start him, and his deliveries from set pieces and crosses with no doubt lead to a plethora of chances. Rarely do United disappoint on a home night in Europe and tomorrow should be no exception, if not for the fact that their star player Xerdan Shaqiri is serving his second match ban. I anticipate a 3 goal winning margin with FC Basel unlikely to get on the score-sheet so I will put down a 3-0 victory and I will give Ashley Young at least one of them. I expect he will put in more of a performance comparable to that he did against Arsenal rather than Stoke and get a man of the match award in his European bow. Let's see if I eat my words tomorrow.