Manchester United face Swiss underdogs FC Basel tonight as reward for last year’s Europa League success. Despite swimming around in one of Europe’s middling ponds (SSL is ranked the 12th strongest by UEFA), Basel have an impressive record against British teams and have claimed some notable scalps in recent years.
Here are a few tales of woe from recent history that Mourinho would do well to heed.
Serious damage to the red’s chances of qualification to the Champions League knock out stages was done when they could only draw 1-1 at Anfield in September 2002. A couple of wins over Group D whipping boys Spartak Moscow*, however, meant they entered their final game in Switzerland with their fate very much firmly in their own paws as the two sides chased runaway leaders Valencia, managed by a certain rotund Iberian butler.
*goal difference of -17 in 6 games is, perversely, actually pretty impressive.
Anyway, a group stage classic was duly served up with Liverpool scrapping back from 3-0 down only to fall agonisingly short of the win they needed to leapfrog the hosts.
Look out for Vlad Smicer doing some world class keeper tussling, how weird it looks that they’re playing Champions League footy with a Nike ball and the most stonewall handball this side of a field in Yorkshire.
Man United 2011/12
Fast forward 9 years and Sir Alex Ferguson was the man getting stitched up something rotten by the Swiss rabble. Like Liverpool, United came up short on the banks of the Rhine in the final game of the group stage, losing 2-1 to go out at the group stage despite appearing in 3 of the 5 previous finals.
Whilst that denouement provided great drama, United should have been out of sight having scored three at home against Basel earlier in the season yet somehow came away winless.
Danny Welbeck got United off to a fine start before a lorry load of ghastly defending saw three goals from brothers Alexander and Fabian Frei tip the tie on its head in 18 extraordinary 2nd half minutes. Ashley Young was United’s eventual saviour on Champions League debut however, stooping to head home in the 90th minute to salvage a draw.
Keep an eye out for a truly timeless hospital pass from Phil Jones for Basel’s third and an early sighting of Danny Welbeck’s now iconic brand of unsightly finishing.
Please note, DO turn the sound off before watching. The soundtrack is textbook YouTube amateur compilation stuff and, as a result, is absolute guff.
In Andre Villas Boas’ one full season in North London the Europa League proved a millstone around his neck. The frequent midweek trips stretched his, in hindsight, pretty weird squad to breaking point - Scott Parker, Kyle Naughton, Lewis Holtby, Steven Caulker, Clint Dempsey, Shaquile Coulthirst anyone?
Despite AVB’s obvious fondness for the competition, 4th place was all that mattered to Levy and co. and key points were dropped due to it. Two league defeats followed a gruelling, extra time last 16 win over Inter Milan before two further vital points (the end margin between Arsenal in 4th place was just 1) slipped from their grasp following another marathon extra time showing against Basel in the quarters.
The first leg at the Lane provided ample drama if not a huge amount of quality with four Sunday league style goals, all scrappier than the bottom of a deep fat fryer, handing Basel the advantage with a pair of away goals.
The second leg was just as error strewn but with even higher stakes. Clint Dempsey grabbed a frankly minging brace whilst Brad Friedel endured a horror night between the sticks and Jan Vertonghen saw red late on. Penalties ensued where T.HUD and Manu Adebayor missed, the latter serving up the sort of effort that was clearly a huge influence on a young and impressionable Simone Zaza.
With no Champions League footy, AVB was offered a stay of execution but the wheels soon fell off his reign as Bale was sold, all sorts of poorly thought out waff bought with the cash and he was out of the door by the following December.
Reigning Europa League champs Chelsea enjoyed a strong return to the continent’s premier competition, making the semi-finals in Mourinho’s first year back at the club. This was not before having their pants well and truly yanked down twice in the group stages however.
Basel somehow failed to make it out of Group E, despite defeating Chelsea home and away, with Mo Salah running the Pensioners ragged. In the opening game of the tournament, Oscar tucked away a neat opener before Salah rattled home a belting one touch equaliser and the strangely effective carthorse Marco Streller nodded in a late winner from a corner.
In a dour return fixture, whereby Chelsea failed to register a shot on target (classic Jose), Salah was again the star, winning the game with a lethal burst in behind Chelsea’s sleeping defence 3 minutes from time. His reward? A move to Stamford Bridge, plenty of time to get to know the inside of dugout really, really well, before being hawked around Italy on loan (absolutely classic Jose).
So there you have it, occasional tricky buggers. Unless you're Arsenal, Middlesbrough or Fulham of course, who've all seen them off effectively enough in the last decade or so.
Need any further encouragement to watch tonight's game? Ricky van Wolfswinkle, one of the worst signings the Premier League has ever seen, is shitting fully formed diamonds at the moment, he's knobbed home 6 in 6 since moving in the summer. Who wouldn't want to see a man kept out of the Norwich team by Cameron Jerome and merk United in the Champions League?
All images - PA. Numbers and stats via WhoScored.