FC Basel travel to Manchester United FC with their future very much in their own hands.
By Richard Whittle
One point adrift
Despite recording just one win in the second group stage – a 1-0 victory at home to RC Deportivo La Coruña – and scoring two goals in four games, the Swiss side are only a point adrift of Deportivo and Juventus FC. Victory over United, who are already assured of automatic qualification, would set up an epic finish when Basel entertain Juventus at home next week.
Basel suffered a 3-1 defeat when they met United on Matchday 7, but coach Christian Gross has been meticulous in his planning for the trip to Old Trafford. The team travelled to England following their weekend league win over FC Servette to avoid the local 'Fasnacht' carnival.
"I know how tempting this carnival is," said Gross. "This way we can avoid being caught up in the celebrations. They are far too distracting." Although in need of a positive result, four Basel players, Antonio Esposito, Bernt Haas, Julio Hernán Rossi and Hakan Yakin, are within one yellow card of a one-match suspension.
Keane and Verón out
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson may be tempted to give his fringe players an opportunity following injuries to midfield players Roy Keane and Juan Sebastián Verón, both now sidelined for up to a month. "Keane and Veron are the more serious of the injuries I have," said Ferguson. "They will be out [for] three to four weeks."
However, Ferguson maintained that their absence did not weaken his side. "The midfield is the strongest part of our squad," he said. "We have players like Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville for that position and they cover us adequately."
Intention to win
Although Diego Forlán (ankle), Wes Brown (hamstring) and Quinton Fortune (groin) are all rated doubtful, Ferguson reiterated that whatever side he fielded his intention was still to secure maximum points. "In fairness to all the teams including Basel, Deportivo and Juventus, we have to make sure Manchester United perform at their best," he stressed. "I would hate to have a bad performance and have all sorts of questions asked.
Ferguson also hinted that the competition's top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooij would be rested, with starting places going to young midfield players Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson. "I think we are maybe two or three players short," he claimed. "We don't have as strong a squad as others if you look at Juventus and AC Milan."