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Champions League

“Their strength in depth is frightening” – Three things learnt from Manchester United 3-0 FC Basel

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Manchester United

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.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Champions League

Gareth Bale’s red-hot Real Madrid form should scare Liverpool

The Welshman has scored 11 goals in his last 15 appearances.

Max Cohen

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Gareth Bale
Photo: Getty Images

In Real Madrid’s final league match of this season on Saturday, Gareth Bale swept home a lovely right-footed finish to open the scoring against Villarreal.

That goal marked the Welshman’s 11th goal in his last 15 appearances for club and country; a remarkably prolific run of form that should scare Liverpool ahead of next weekend’s Champions League final.

Injury problems have marred much of Bale’s time at the Bernabeu, and he suffered a lengthy two-month absence from the first team this fall.

Yet, after returning from his injury lay-off, the former world-record signing has hit full form in the last two months.

In that time period, the winger has scored a hat-trick for Wales, braces against Las Palmas and Celta Vigo, and a crucial goal versus Barcelona.

This spring resurgence presents a worrying prospect for Liverpool’s defence, who already will have their hands full trying to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in check in Kiev.

(Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Add in Gareth Bale hitting full form, and suddenly the task at hand for Jurgen Klopp’s men appears far more difficult.

The 28-year-old also has quite the decorated history for los Blancos in cup finals. In his debut season for Real, Bale scored sensational winning goals in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.

The following season in the European Cup final, the Welshman assisted Real Madrid’s sole goal and scored his penalty in the ensuing shoot-out; his cup final record is simply superb.

Combined with Bale’s recent tremendous goalscoring form, the prospect of facing up against the powerful winger might strike fear in the Liverpool backline.

But the Reds have proven adept in stifling some of the best attacks in Europe this season.

Liverpool famously restricted high-scoring Manchester City to just one goal over 180 minutes in the quarterfinals and the Reds will have to conjure up that heroic rearguard performance in order to stop the on-form Gareth Bale next weekend.

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Champions League

Liverpool should pursue a swap deal with Emre Can for Sami Khedira

The Juventus midfielder could be tempted to the Premier League this summer.

Josh Kerr

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Khedira
Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool should make Sami Khedira their primary replacement for Emre Can, who is expected to join Juventus on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The German international is coming to the end of his third season with the Serie A outfit after joining from Real Madrid on a free transfer in 2015, with just a year left on his contract.

With the Serie A outfit’s midfield options already at full strength and the likely addition of Can, this summer could lead to a few clear-outs in the middle of the park for Juventus.

This should prompt Jurgen Klopp to pursue his fellow countryman Khedira, who is said to be interested in a move to the Premier League.

Reports from The Sun suggest Liverpool have been ‘alerted’ to Khedira’s availability this summer during negotiations with Juventus over Can.

The 24-year-old midfielder’s deal expires at the end of the season and Liverpool face the serious prospect of losing him on a free.

A move for Khedira would make perfect sense for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are needing to strengthen a midfield that has endured so many injuries throughout the current campaign.

(Photo by Javier Soriano/Getty Images)

With the addition of Naby Keita, Khedira could prove to be the established central defensive midfielder who allows the Reds midfield three to tick, similar to the role Sergio Busquets plays at Barcelona.

The World Cup-winning midfielder spoke of his fondness for the Premier League in an interview with Bild, saying: “The Premier League has always fascinated me. Winning the title there would complete my collection.”

Liverpool have been breathtaking in Europe this season and Khedira’s experience of winning four-domestic titles in his career could be the addition the Reds need to compete with the dominance of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

The German international, who has nine goals and seven assists this season, has one year remaining on his Juventus contract and may be allowed to leave to join the Reds if he desires, with Can likely to join as his ready-made replacement.

Massimiliano Allegri has always possessed a knack for quickly replacing players who have decided they want to leave Juventus, with Fernando Llorente, Carlos Teves, and Paul Pogba all leaving the Italian side in recent years.

Therefore, the likely arrival of Can could be a link to Khedira’s desires to pursue new challenges elsewhere. If so, Liverpool would be the perfect destination for the Juventus midfielder.

The Reds’ high-pressing, all-out, attacking style of play could appeal to the former Real Madrid star, who would undoubtedly be excited by the prospect of joining up with compatriot, Jurgen Klopp, on Merseyside.

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Champions League

Ranking Liverpool’s possible Champions League semi-final opponents

The draw for the semi-final stage takes place on Friday 13th April.

Max Cohen

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Liverpool
Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool shocked the footballing world with a 5-1 aggregate dismantling of Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals, earning themselves their first semifinal appearance in a decade.

The draw to determine who they will play in the last four occurs on Friday, and here are Liverpool’s possible opponents ranked in terms of difficulty.

1. Roma

Fresh off a superb 3-0 second leg win over Barcelona, the Serie A side are certainly high on confidence and feel as if they can beat any team in the world.

Nonetheless, the Reds will be hoping they are rewarded with a matchup against the Italian side, as they are the most inexperienced team left in the competition.

The farthest Roma have ever made it in the UEFA Champions League were back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in 2006/07 and 2007/08; the semifinals mark uncharted territory for the Italians in the modern era.

Roma are also in poor league form, having recently lost to Fiorentina and drawing with Bologna, and currently sit 21 points off the pace in Serie A.

Liverpool would love to play the only remaining Italian side in the semifinals, as it would pit them against an inexperienced European club.

(Photo by Christof Stache/Getty Images)

2. Bayern Munich

One of the world’s best clubs and boasting a superstar collection of top players, the Bundesliga champions are a team to fear.

They have cantered to their sixth-straight league title this spring, winning the title in customary fashion with over a month still to play.

But although it has been all smooth sailing at home, they have shown signs of imperfection in the Champions League. They failed to muster a goal in their second-leg 0-0 draw with Sevilla, and were also thrashed 3-0 by Paris Saint Germain in the group stage.

Although the Bavarian giants are still a force to be reckoned with, they have shown signs of cracking this year; a fact that Liverpool can take heart from.

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

3. Real Madrid

The back-to-back defending European champions would be the last club Liverpool want to face for a spot in the final.

Real Madrid possess the most dangerous player in Champions League history in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, gifting Los Blancos the ability to win a match out of nowhere.

Ronaldo’s uncanny scoring skills were on display in the quarterfinal battle against Juventus, where he scored three goals, including an outrageous overhead kick and a stoppage-time penalty to send Real through.

Madrid simply don’t get knocked out in Europe; the Reds should be praying they avoid the Spanish side in the semifinal draw.

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