Basel vs. Manchester United: 5 Things Learned from Utd's Champions League Exit
Manchester United's 2011-12 Champions League campaign is over. Beaten 2-1 by unfancied Swiss side Basel last night, the three-time European Champions were knocked out at the group stage for the first time since 2005.
United needed a draw to progress from Group C, but were undone by goals from Marco Streller and Alexander Frei, and despite dominating for large periods, failed to trouble the scorers until it was too late.
The result meant Basel joined Group C winners Benfica in the draw for the last 16, while United were resigned to the Europa League.
Here are five things we've learned during the failed campaign of Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
1. Defensive Concentration Lacking
United conceded eight times in their six qualifying games, and a good number of those goals were due to dips in concentration defensively.
Basel's first last night was the result of poor judgement from David De Gea. Their second came after Xherdan Shaqiri was allowed the freedom of the right flank, then Alexander Frei that of the far post. Chris Smalling stood motionless as Frei stole in to end the contest.
Such mental lapses cannot be afford at this level, where quality opposition will punish even the slightest hint of hesitancy. Sir Alex Ferguson needs more authority from his backline, and greater leadership from the experienced heads at his disposal.
2. Old Trafford No Longer a Fortress
United might not have lost at Old Trafford, but home draws against Benfica and Basel were arguably their undoing in not reaching the knockout stages.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team conceded five in three home games, and even their victory against Otelul Galati was a largely unconvincing affair. United failed to set the tempo and struggled to break down what were average Champions League opponents.
For the second season running, United took five points from a possible nine at home, which heaps pressure of getting good results on the road.
3. Ferguson Still Doesn't Know His No. 1
On Saturday, it was Anders Lindegaard, on Wednesday, David De Gea. We can only assume Sir Alex Ferguson is yet to make his mind up, and that leaves United without a confident man in possession of the goalkeeper's jersey.
De Gea had another shaky night in Switzerland, so does he return to Lindegaard against Wolves in the Premier League? Or keep faith in the Spaniard?
Your guess is as good as mine, and therein lies the problem. Young goalkeepers surely can't benefit from entering every game with their place in jeopardy.
4. Ashley Young's Form Is Key
Ashley Young had a riproaring start to his United career. The England winger looked a threat every time he picked up the ball and played a key role in United's dominant start to the season
When injury struck, United felt his loss in the attacking third, and they're still feeling it four games into his return, as he struggles to recapture that early form.
At his best Young is a match-winner. Last night he was fairly predictable and easily dealt with.
5. United Were Not a Threat
While it's desperately disappointing to miss out on the knockout stages, for just the third time in 17 years, United fans know deep down their team were not strong enough to mount a serious challenge this season.
Unless Ferguson had invested heavily in January, which seems unlikely, United would have entered the last 16 with a leaky defence, a midfield lacking creativity and a forward line overly reliant on Wayne Rooney.
If Basel and Benfica can come to Old Trafford and score five between them, just think what the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona could have done to Ferguson's team.
United fans will be hoping their Champions League exit forces Ferguson's hand in the January window, because in their current state, his team are not realistic contenders on the biggest stage.
One positive could be United's forthcoming Europa League campaign, which could well be used to provide valuable experience to the raft of young players coming through at Old Trafford.