UEFA Champions League: Why Manchester United Won't Advance to Last 16 of Europe
With five games played in the UEFA Champions League group stages and sitting second in their group behind Benfica, Manchester United find themselves in some pretty unfamiliar territory than in years gone by.
Normally, one could expect the Red Devils to have already clinched top spot by this point. This year, however, after drawing three and winning only twice, Sir Alex Ferguson's men find themselves in a tricky situation. In order to qualify and progress to the latter stages of Europe's elite competition, Manchester United need to get at least a point away at Swiss side FC Basel two weeks from today.
And though on the surface, it may seem an easy task, the Red Devils have been anything but convincing as of late, especially when it comes to getting results in the Champions League.
All this then prompts a bold question: Is it possible for Manchester United, arguably the greatest football team in the world, to miss out on qualification?
This slideshow aims to explain why Manchester United may not qualify for the last 16.
Shambolic Defending All Around
The one glaring difference when watching Manchester United this year, as opposed to last, is the steep decline in the quality of the backline.
Despite bolstering the defense through the addition of Phil Jones, a highly promising English center back, the Red Devils seem uncharacteristically unconvincing this season when it comes to effectively holding leads. Having conceded six goals in five games, five of those goals coming at "the fortress" Old Trafford itself, it seems this crop of Manchester United defenders simply isn't that stellar anymore.
With Manchester United traveling to Basel for the group's last game, one in which United need at least a point to progress, it seems the Red Devils have less reason than usual to be optimistic. FC Basel have already shown their attacking prowess earlier at Old Trafford, when they managed to score no less than three times, ultimately earning a well deserved point.
Sir Alex's men will now have to try and subdue FC Basel's offense away from home. A task that may just prove to be too difficult given the current downward shift in morale in the Red Devils' camp.
Still No Paul Scholes Replacement
Though this may actually indicate a much bigger and long-term problem within Sir Alex Ferguson's current tactics, the fact that the Red Devils have yet to replace their creative force of last year, Paul Scholes, means they're likely to struggle when it comes to producing chances away at Basel.
Anderson, despite looking impressive in short bursts, is yet to convince the Old Trafford faithful that he's ready to make the step up. Simply put, he doesn't possess the same sort of attacking drive or passing skill set required to penetrate opposition defenses game in and game out.
With Wayne Rooney likely to watch the game from the sidelines, it's hard to see Manchester United creating much, or looking deadly in the final third. And with their defense the way it is, it's even harder to envision a 0-0 result when the full-time whistle blows, meaning the Red Devils will most likely have to score at least once if they are to progress.
Nani's Dip in Form
Despite starting the new season on the same foot as he left off the last, Nani's form, which saw him earn a shortlist on FIFA's prestigious Ballon d'Or award, is starting to fizzle out.
After putting in a man-of-the-match performance in the community shield versus cross-town rivals Manchester City, as well as scoring two stunning goals against both Arsenal and Chelsea, the Portuguese winger seems unable to reproduce similar form as of late.
His last goal for the Red Devils came against Stoke City in a disappointing 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium. Since then, after enduring an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Manchester City, Nani seems unable to drive Sir Alex's team forward, as he hasn't dazzled supporters with his dribbles too often since then.
Having only scored three and assisted the same amount in the league so far, it seems Nani would have to considerably up his game if the Red Devils are to have any hope of stealing a draw away at FC Basel.
The Absence of Key Players
It seems Sir Alex Ferguson will have to continue sweating on the fitness of super-striker Wayne Rooney, while contemplating how his backline will cope against a barrage of attacks from FC Basel without their influential captain Nemanja Vidic marshaling the defense.
Simply put, both sides of Manchester United's lineup (the attack and defense) seem considerably weaker when those two aren't there. And though Wayne Rooney technically still has a chance to feature, a recent press conference from Sir Alex himself suggests the striker may not feature against Newcastle over the weekend, giving him a slight chance of missing the trip to Switzerland in two weeks time as well.
If Rooney is to eventually partner Vidic on the sideline in that game, expect to see a weakened Manchester United squad that will likely struggle at both keeping the opposition at bay and creating and finishing chances on the other end.
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