FERGIE EXILED TO CHANNEL 5; Streller and Frei Leave United Down with the Also-Rans

Daily Mail (London), December 8, 2011 | Go to article overview

FERGIE EXILED TO CHANNEL 5; Streller and Frei Leave United Down with the Also-Rans


Byline: MATT LAWTON in Basle Chief Football Correspondent

THURSDAY night, Channel 5. Oh, the shame. Oh, the embarrassment. Oh, the abuse Manchester United will have to endure, even if their nearest and fiercest rivals have suffered the same fate.

Can this really be true? Are the Manchester powerhouses who are dominating the Barclays Premier League really on a different road, diverted away from Munich towards Bucharest?

When the only team they beat in a relatively easy group are the Romanians of Otelul Galati, United certainly deserve to be out of the Champions League.

Just as they probably deserve to lose a game of this importance when their midfield looked like it had been thrown together in the desperate hope the contest would be decided elsewhere.

United have experienced so many highs in this competition under Sir Alex Ferguson. Two overall victories as well as a run that has seen them reach three of the last four finals, albeit at a time when Barcelona have emerged as the finest club side we have seen.

But what remains a hugely impressive spell ended with a whimper here at St Jakob Park last night, the difficulties Ferguson has experienced in building a new midfield proving United's undoing.

Roy Keane was a member of the ITV commentary team last night and he must have wondered how United's engine room has dropped so drastically in quality. Phil Jones is a hugely promising young man but a midfield trio that also includes a 38-year-old Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-sung is far from ideal, even if Giggs performed quite well.

Whatever plan Ferguson had in mind went horribly wrong the moment Marco Streller took advantage of an injury to Chris Smalling and put this determined, wellorganised Basle side in front after only nine minutes.

It turned the game, putting the onus on United to attack rather than on a Swiss side that had to win to progress to the last 16.

But it is in such situations that Ferguson could so often rely on Keane or Paul Scholes, even Owen Hargreaves, to take a game by the scruff of the neck and last night he had nobody of that ilk.

On the pitch they were not good enough. On the bench sat an out-of-form Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson.

It has been the story of United's season so far; an accident waiting to happen. A reason why they were so comprehensively beaten by Manchester City and a reason why they have only drawn with Benfica and drawn at home to Basle before losing this encounter.

Their performances at home, in particular, have not been up to the required standard.

It was similar when they last failed to progress from the group stage but the difference now is what comes next.

Six years ago, Ferguson dusted himself down and came back stronger.

Now, thanks to UEFA's obsession with television revenue, they have to suffer the ignominy of dropping into the Europa League and bracing themselves for a possible European encounter with Stoke while Basle hope for Barcelona or Real Madrid.

As Keane said, this was a reality check for some of United's younger players, the error-prone David de Gea among them. A lesson in what is expected when you serve Ferguson and a fine football club.

But for Ferguson, too, this makes certain demands.

The great man turns 70 at the end of this month but he has to find that central player, even if he knows the future should also feature the talented Tom Cleverley.

Some of them already understand what is needed. Nani played with determination and so did Wayne Rooney, the England striker clearly keen to go into his appeal hearing in the knowledge that he would be playing more Champions League football this season whatever UEFA's disciplinary officials decide today.

Now, however, he must fear a bad night in Switzerland could become a nightmare 24 hours.

No sooner had this game started than United looked vulnerable, with Markus Steinhofer and the excellent Xherdan Shaqiri threatening inside the first few minutes. …

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