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Basel v Manchester United Preview : A Crunch Clash In Switzerland

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Manchester United face Basel on Wednesday night in a crunch final Champions League group game for both sides. United go into the match only needing a draw to progress through to the Last 16 – whilst the Swiss champions need a win – with Benfica having already qualified.

It’s a game that Sir Alex Ferguson at the start of the campaign would have been hoping to field a second-string team, as he no doubt would have hoped that United would have already qualified from the group. However he can ill-afford to play anything but his weakest team as Basel in their patch will be far from an easy task.

Currently sitting top of their domestic league by 6 points ahead of Luzern, Basel will need no motivation to upset United and topple one of European football’s giants out of the Champions League at the group stage. It would be a massive result for Swiss football and one which could be the club’s greatest ever European result.

United will be going into the game confident after their win against Aston Villa at the weekend and know that they can certainly play better against Basel than the last time the two sides back in September. Back at Old Trafford only a late goal by Ashley Young spared United’s blushes securing them a 3-3 draw.

That point has proved to be an important one for United who but for Young’s late header would need the full 3 points at the St Jacob-Park on Wednesday instead of a solitary point which seems a much easier task to attain. Still though it’s worth remembering sometimes having to go out and draw a match is harder than it seems,

Basel will be lively up top and with the mercurial talent that’s Xherdan Shaqiri available they will be dangerous on the break. Shaqiri who starred in this summer’s UEFA U21 tournament in Denmark was suspended for the match at Old Trafford and will be raring to go on the big occasion with the whole of Europe looking on.

United have travelled to Basel once before back in the second group-stage of the 2002/03 Champions League, coming from behind to win 3-1 with Ruud van Nistelrooy bagging a brace alongside an Ole Gunnar Solksjaer strike. A repeat of that result would go down very well with United’s travelling supporters.

So what can we expect from the game. What will be the key battles on the pitch?

Rio Ferdinand v Alexander Frei

Rio Ferdinand certainly has had a difficult start to the season. However the defender is gradually getting back to his best and looked in complete control in United’s win over Aston Villa at the weekend, so he may well be over his injury worries.

Alexander Frei scored twice in Basel’s draw at Old Trafford and at 32 is still a top-class striker. But for injuries he would still be playing in the Bundesliga. He is quick and is dangerous when dropping deep so has to be marked tightly.

Darren Fletcher v Cabral

Just like Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher  has been written of by many pundits and fans alike over the last year with many deeming that the hard-working midfielder is past his best. However he has started the season well bringing energy to the midfield.

Whilst that opinion about Fletcher being past his best may be true, he has proven in the last couple of weeks his importance to United’s squad. He should have enough experience to deal with Basel’s tricky midfielder Cabral and will time his challenges well on the night.

Wayne Rooney v Aleksandar Dragovic

After starting the season in sensational form, strangley enough Wayne Rooney’s only two goals since United’s thrilling win against Chelsea in September came in Romania via the penalty spot in United’s 2-0 win over Otelul Galati back in October.

Despite that though the England forwardwill be trusted by Sir Alex to lead the line and fire United through to the last 16. He should have enough pace and power to trouble young Austrian defender Aleksandar Dragovic as well as a few of his partners in defence!

In terms of a prediction for the game tonight, as I stated earlier on in a predictions article, at the start of the month, I believe tonight United will win the game 2-0 and qualify to the last 16 of the Champions League wih Basel dropping into the Europa League.

Basel despite United’s European pedigree will be under intense pressure to win and send their fans home happy. It may prove a stage too big enough for them to perform on and it wouldn’t surprise to see them finish the game with 10 men if frustration begins to kick in.

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87

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