United nearly paid for not learning from Basel debacle

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Manchester United must change their attitude in Europe this year or they risk being embarrassed for a second time.


Sir Alex Ferguson’s side brushed a little too closely with Europa League elimination at Old Trafford on Thursday, and it was all entirely their own doing.


Ajax were 2-1 winners in Manchester and threatened to score the tie-clinching third after scoring the second late on.


There must be praise for the Red Devils still securing progression but it is hard to believe the same squad could put on a performance like Thursday’s after winning so convincingly in Amsterdam.


It was a lazy, uninspiring showing from United and had they been knocked out they would have deserved it for such complacency and what was ultimately arrogance.


You would think they had learned from the miserable night they suffered at the hands of Basel to be dumped out of the Champions League at the group stages.


That night was a showcase of profligacy and underestimation of opponents who, realistically, should not have provided Ferguson’s side too stern a test.


Basel’s exciting young winger Xherdan Shaqiri was damning in his verdict of the Premier League champions, suggesting they suffered because of a failure to see their opponents as anything but a minor detail in their trip to the last 16.


“United underestimated us. You could feel it in the tunnel and even in the warm-up,” said the 20-year-old.


“They weren't fully focused and I'm not sure a United player made one sprint. Afterwards, you couldn't even swap shirts - they were gone that quickly.”


Shaqiri’s words give you some insight into how important a team’s demeanour is before a game and he initial moment the two sides are confronted.


It was quite a humiliation for United and the shock of exiting the tournament so early should, you would assume, stop them from slipping back into such a detrimental state of complacency.


It was certainly a surprise to see it in their very next European tie and see nearly the same result.


Despite constant warnings against complacency coming out of the club in the lead up to the game, it crept in to the club and took hold.


The fact that United took an early lead probably had something to do with – possibly just magnifying the already present feeling that the tie was effectively over.


This is the road to ruin; even if a side is in an imposing lead, the tie is only over until those who are leading it make it over.


Manchester United teams of the past decade weren’t terribly prone to letting leads go when in such commanding positions.


In fact, they were known for highlighting to opposition teams that contests are never over until the final whistle sounds. It becomes more infuriating when you seem a side who are usually so able in squeezing every last drop out of 90 minutes make such basic errors as the kind they are so adept at exploiting.

It is doubly frustrating that United won the Premier League last season by not being complacent and doing enough to win when games were tight - it would be unlikely to see a similar performance in the league.


In defence of the players, this victory presumptuousness began on high and Ferguson admitted that he had made a mistake in team selection.


“I must say, I've got to accept I'm responsible for picking the team and I picked too many young players in the back four positions,” he said.


What is this if not an example of the underestimation that Shaqiri was so withering about?


Now, there is weight with the argument that getting through is getting through, but it is the manner in which this is achieved that is the problem.


There is a problem because United have now not won in three of their last four European home games – all against teams who they should have been able to defeat without too much fuss.


What should have been a solid performance to safely see United through to the next round, became a nail-bighting worry-fest in the latter stages and it will feel far more draining come the weekend’s game at Norwich for those present than it should have done.


Next up in the Europa League is Athletic Bilbao – a half decent team with a bit of European history, but a team United should beat.


Let’s hope they can beat them properly this time.

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Europa League
UEFA Champions League
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