Manchester United saw their 18-match unbeaten away run in all competitions come to a disappointing end, as the Red Devils fell to a 2-1 defeat away at Istanbul Basaksehir in the UEFA Champions League.
Despite making an encouraging start to the match, Manchester United’s misfiring attack and non-existent defense saw them fall two goals behind their Turkish opponents. Demba Ba opened the scoring, and Edin Visca doubled his side’s lead in the first half.
The second half played out much like the first, with the away side making most of the running while the hosts seemed content to sit back and wait for opportunities to break with pace.
However, despite most of the second half being played in Basaksehir’s half, Manchester United’s star-studded attack could not find a way through a resolute Turkish defense.
The closest Manchester United came to rescuing a point was in the 92nd minute, when a last-ditch goal-line clearance from Basaksehir defender Alexandru Epureanu preserved his side’s lead.
As a result, Manchester United’s perfect start to their Champions League campaign comes to a shuddering halt, while Istanbul Basaksehir reignite their chances of progressing from the group.
On that note, here are the five major talking points from a potentially pivotal group stage game.
#1 Manchester United’s defensive issues highlighted once again
After a rocky start to the season that has seen them concede 14 goals across all competitions, the spotlight was already on Manchester United’s fragile defense. And this performance only raised more concerns.
Having made a bright start to the match, United were caught napping in the 12th minute as they committed everyone forward for a corner, only to leave Demba Ba free in acres of space to latch on to a clearance and slot home the opener.
Rather than learn from the error, the United defense proceeded to repeat the mistake on multiple occasions. The Red Devils left gaping holes in their backline for their opponents to exploit.
The hosts, who passed up more than a few chances to double their lead, finally did so in the 40th minute through captain Edin Visca. He capitalized on more poor defending from Manchester United to hammer home a confident finish.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s response to the situation was to revert to a back three, taking off Axel Tuanzebe and pushing Nemanja Matic back to play on the left of the back three.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, even though they had the upper hand for most of the second half, their earlier defensive lapses ended up costing them the game.
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#2 Istanbul Basaksehir played United at their own game
While Manchester United are still searching for their real identity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, much of their success under the Norwegian has come via allowing their opponents to have the ball and using their pace and quality in attack to score on the counter.
Against Istanbul Basaksehir, however, they were given a taste of their own medicine. The Turkish champions employed broadly similar tactics in defending resolutely and attacking on the break.
This strategy worked wonders for the home side, who went into a 2-0 lead in the first half, thanks not only to some resolute defending but also to their opponents’ lax defending and their own express pace on the counter-attack.
The second half saw Basaksehir retreat deep into their half and put on a resolute defensive display, putting men behind the ball and proving incredibly difficult to break down as they protected their precious lead.
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#3 Manchester United outdone by familiar faces
Even though this is Istanbul Basaksehir’s first-ever UEFA Champions League campaign, they were by no means complete strangers to Manchester United as they had a few familiar faces in their ranks.
Leading the line for the Turkish side was Demba Ba, formerly of West Ham United, Newcastle United, and Chelsea, and scorer of three goals against United in the past, a tally to which he added on the night.
Further back, there were two more old acquaintances in Istanbul’s backline. Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel lined up against his old foes and put in a characteristically no-nonsense display.
Beside him, playing the right-back role was former Manchester United fan-favorite Rafael. The Brazilian also put in a superb shift, defending gamely while getting forward at every opportunity.
Eventually, the Premier League experience in the Istanbul Basaksehir ranks played a significant part in their win, with all three former Premier League players instrumental in securing the impressive result.
#4 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still searching for best playing XI
A rocky start to the 2020-21 season has forced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to chop and change his side’s composition in search of the winning formula. And the Champions League seems to have become the tournament where he conducts the majority of his experiments.
The ability to make five substitutions, in addition to positive results against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, made it much easier for Solskjaer to rotate his Manchester United squad for this fixture.
As a result, Solskjaer made six changes from the side that lost to Arsenal at the weekend. He handed Dean Henderson his Champions League debut while also recalling Donny van de Beek, Axel Tuanzebe, Nemanja Matic, and Juan Mata, while Anthony Martial also returned to the playing eleven.
Not only were the personnel changed for this fixture, but the formation was too, with Manchester United deployed in a 4-2-3-1 with van de Beek playing alongside Matic in central midfield. Fernandes, Mata, and Rashford formed a fluid back three behind Martial.
A poor first half saw Solskjaer ring in the changes as his side chased the game, bringing on Scott McTominay at half time and throwing on Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani for good measure a few minutes later.
Mason Greenwood and Timothy Fosu-Mensah also joined the party with 15 minutes left to play even before Istanbul made any changes of their own, with Solskjaer utilizing his sizable Manchester United squad to the fullest.
#5 Group H thrown wide open once again
Manchester United and Istanbul Basaksehir had had contrasting starts to their UEFA Champions League campaigns ahead of their clash in Turkey. While the Red Devils won their first two games, the Turkish side had lost both of theirs.
As such, all signs suggested that Manchester United would make it three wins from three and reach nine points, while Basaksehir would be cut further adrift at the bottom on the table.
However, the Turkish champions’ first win in Champions League history upset the form books, bringing RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain, who would face off against each other later on, back into the picture.
With the reverse of these fixtures to be played later on in the month, the door has been thrown wide open for one of PSG or RB Leipzig to dethrone Manchester United from the top of the standings.
Moreover, any of the four teams now have a realistic shot at progressing from this group, as the final outcome is far from certain based on current form and recent results.