Manchester United make their much-anticipated Champions League return against Basle on Tuesday evening.
Ahead of the Swiss champions’ arrival at Old Trafford, we take a look at some of the talking points ahead of the Group A opener.
CAN LINDELOF AND SMALLING SHINE?
Phil Jones has impressed for club and country in recent weeks, while Eric Bailly continues to show the promise that led United to sign him from Villarreal last summer. The pair have established themselves at the heart of Jose Mourinho’s defence but both are suspended for the Group A opener and Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will get the chance to stake their claim for starting berths. Smalling has slipped behind England team-mate Jones in the pecking order, while Lindelof’s only competitive appearance since his summer move from Benfica was shaky – albeit all-conquering Real Madrid were the Super Cup opponents in Skopje.
RED ROM READY FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE?
Fresh from netting the 150th goal of his club career in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Stoke, Romelu Lukaku is now looking to score in the Champions League group stage for the first time. A third-round qualifying appearance against Wales’ TNS and three play-off matches with Anderlecht have been his the only chances at the continent’s top table so far. The big-money summer signing now has the chance for his first group-stage goals, having netted nine times in seven outings for club and country this term.
FELLAINI ABLE TO MAKE PRESENCE FELT?
The re-occurrence of a calf complaint meant Marouane Fellaini missed Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Stoke – a match that left Mourinho bemoaning his absence. The 29-year-old is back in contention after returning to training and Mourinho would love to have the Belgian back in his squad. “He’s a very important player for me – much more important than you can imagine,” Mourinho said on Monday. “I feel weaker without Fellaini in my squad. It doesn’t matter if it is on the pitch or on the bench, so if his condition improves he will be selected because I need him.”
ANOTHER BAD DAY AGAINST BASLE?
United do not have particularly fond memories of Basle, having twice tried and failed to beat them at Old Trafford. The Swiss side secured a memorable 1-1 draw on their first visit in March 2003 and were on the cusp of a famous triumph in September 2011 after recovering from two early Danny Welbeck efforts to go 3-2 up. Ashley Young’s goal at the death saw United snatch a draw but Basle exacted revenge with a 2-1 win at St Jakob-Park when Sir Alex Ferguson’s men needed a point to progress from the group. History bodes well for Basle, but their current form does not – they have gone three domestic matches without a win and suffered a surprise loss to Lausanne Sport at the weekend.
IS THAT RICKY VAN WOLFSWINKEL?
Norwich fans may well rub their eyes in disbelief when their one-time record signing lines up for Basle on Tuesday evening. Van Wolfswinkel arrived to much fanfare in 2013, yet three years and two loan spells later he quietly exited Carrow Road after mustering just two goals in 28 appearances in all competitions. A resurgent season with Vitesse Arnhem led Basle to come calling this summer and, while his team has yet to hit the heights expected of them, the Dutch forward has plundered seven goals in as many games.