Manchester United failed to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since the 2005-06 season, after losing 2-1 in Basel on a disappointing night.
Last year’s finalist paid the price for making a mess of what was widely regarded to be the easiest group in the competition and stumbled to a defeat, when a draw would have been enough to progress.
An Alexander Frei goal six minutes from time sealed the fate for Fergie’s men who now face the unappealing prospect of spending their Thursdays in the less noble of European competitions but, for what they’ve produced in the Champions League this season, is probably the right verdict.
United traveled to Basel with the comfort of an astonishing record on the road, 3 defeat in the last 25 away games in Europe, 2 of them coming against Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 finals.
With Berbatov and Hernandez injured, Rooney was deployed alone upfront with Young and Nani in support while Phil Jones retained his spot as defensive midfielder, flanked by Giggs and Park in what was a strangely looking midfield trio, given the absence of the suspended Michael Carrick.
DeGea was back between the posts behind an unchanged back four.
United started brightly, controlling possession and committing men forward but Basel struck with their first attack.
Smalling went down injured after having been struck by Vidic’s left arm following a cross, Shaqiri found himself in acres of space and delivered a teasing ball in which DeGea could only deflect away with his leg offering Streller the simplest of tap-ins to put Basel ahead with barely 9 minutes gone.
United were soon back in control and actually played some of their best football in Europe this season, creating a couple of chances around the half hour mark.
Rooney and Park couldn’t direct the ball home from two yards out then Nani had his shot blocked before Rooney appeared to be brought down in the box, but the ref waved play on.
United’s night went from bad to worse as they lost Vidic to injury just before half time, to what looked to be a serious knee problem.
Evans came on to replace the United captain, but the last thing United want at this point of the season is another injury to add to their already long list of players in the treatment room.
Rooney went close just after the break when he saw his shot across the goal ending agonizingly wide of the post but, despite Welbeck and Macheda coming on for Young and Park, United couldn’t produce a clear cut chance.
Then, with 6 minutes to go, Frei was left unmarked at the back post by Smalling and headed in to make it 2-0 and send Basel through while United starred down the barrel of elimination.
There was just enough time for Jones to get his second United’s goal in less than 5 days, as he nodded home following a scramble in Basel’s box.
It could have set the stage for another dramatic United comeback but, this time, it wasn’t to be.
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