Manchester United’s first taste of Champions League football for two years ended sweetly as Jose Mourinho’s side cantered to a comfortable victory over FC Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening.
The hosts dominated proceedings from the start, with Romelu Lukaku’s goal-bound effort being blocked from close range before Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck the woodwork from three-yards out.
It didn’t take long to break the deadlock though, with substitute Marouane Fellaini stooping low to head United in front before Lukaku continued his fine start to the year with a second after the break.
Basel came close to a late consolation when Mohamed Elyounoussi forced David de Gea into a fine reaction save but it was Marcus Rashford who had the last laugh, firing a late third to wrap up a win.
See below for three things The Boot Room learnt on Manchester United’s winning return to Europe.
Jose Mourinho’s side have strong resources
Manchester United supporters would have approached Tuesday’s match with a small sense of trepidation when the starting eleven was announced after their poor recent record against FC Basel.
The last time the two sides met in the group-stages back in 2011 United were held to a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford before losing 2-1 away from home, in a match that swiftly knocked them out of Europe.
So when Mourinho rang the changes to his back-line, bringing in Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young, there would have been a few nerves around Old Trafford before kick-off.
But the thing with this Manchester United side is that the strength in depth is frightening, and although FC Basel are admittedly a lot weaker than six years ago a make-shift defence seemed comfortable.
With United looking to challenge on four fronts this season their squad rotation will prove key, particularly post-Christmas, and they’re already showing they have the ability and resources to cope.
Fellaini remains a vital squad player
Has there ever been a more remarkable turnaround at a big club than Marouane Fellaini?
Under David Moyes he was merely a point of ridicule for Manchester United’s top-flight rivals, looking a shadow of the player he was at Everton, and he became a scapegoat for United’s demise.
But something has happened since Mourinho arrived in Manchester that has turned the Belgian’s fortunes around and, all of a sudden, he’s beginning to earn himself a status as an unlikely cult hero.
Called upon once again after Paul Pogba’s early hamstring injury he was influential all game and United’s opponents didn’t really know how to handle his physicality in midfield and his aerial threat.
It was little surprise then that he popped up in the right place at the right time to head home Ashley Young’s sublime cross to give his side the lead, before putting in a very un-Fellaini like lung-busting run deep into the FC Basel area to cut the ball back for Rashford to wrap up a routine European win.
It just serves to prove the aforementioned strength in depth that United have at their disposal, and with Pogba likely to be side-lined for at least four weeks it could now be the Belgian’s time to shine.
Rashford shines but a winger is still needed
Is there anything that Marcus Rashford can’t do?
The 19-year-old continued his meteoric rise at Manchester United on Tuesday night, popping up on the edge of the area to slot home the third goal of the night and notch his own third of the new season.
This continued his incredible record of scoring on debut in competitions, with Rashford finding the net in his first Premier League, Europa League, EFL Cup, England and now Champions League match.
But despite more goal-scoring antics from the youngster it’s clear that Mourinho’s side are still lacking a world-class winger to take the game to the opposition, with Juan Mata failing to impose himself again.
The Spaniard has struggled to adapt to the right-wing position so far this season, often sloppy in possession and wasteful with his end product, and United will be looking for a vast improvement.