Sir Alex Ferguson hinted that he may need to rein in Manchester United’s rampaging attacking play after watching his side scramble a 3-3 UEFA Champions League draw with FC Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
United have produced some scintillating football in the Premier League this season, plundering a whopping 22 goals in only six matches, an average of more than three goals a game. And after 17 minutes of Tuesday’s Group C encounter it looked as if United were set to lay on another goal-feast, with Danny Welbeck helping himself to a well-taken brace to put United 2-0 ahead.
But United, missing the absent Wayne Rooney, were rocked by a second half fightback from their Swiss opponents, who repeatedly breached a back four of Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones and Fabio Da Silva.
Fabian Frei capitalised on sloppy marking to pull the first goal back for the visitors before namesake Alex Frei equalised two minutes later after a swift counter-attack. More sloppy play from United – Jones ill-advisedly trying to pass his way out of trouble – led to the penalty from which Alex Frei put Basel ahead midway through the second half.
Although United were eventually rescued by a 90th-minute Ashley Young equaliser, Ferguson admitted he was concerned by the lax play which had allowed Basel back into the match. “I think we’re playing with a bit of abandon at the moment. And certainly we have to think about that,” Ferguson said.
“We have to have a bit more concentration on that part. I think that we played too many players forward in the pitch tonight. Far too many. I thought there was a carelessness about us throughout the game. The attacking part was very good, particularly in the first half.
“But there was a carelessness on our part and they really could have scored three goals in the first half. I suppose in many ways it’s a welcome to European football for them. Because they were very lax tonight for most parts of the game.”
Ferguson also suggested his team had been guilty of under-estimating the threat posed by their Swiss champions. “I think that’s the possibility of playing a team like Basel. To the players’ minds, although they prepared for the game properly, they felt that they could go forward.
“But as it proved, by doing that there were so many gaps in midfield to the back four. And really if we’d concentrated on the defensive part I don’t think we would have had so many problems.”
Ferguson also refused to blame United’s defensive problems on the fact that the club has been unable to field a settled back four this season, with captain Nemanja Vidic, Rafael Da Silva and Jonny Evans all injured. “There’s still enough quality in the back four. You’ve got Evra, and Ferdinand. They’ve got plenty of experience,” Ferguson said.
“You always like to have a back four playing consistently. We’ve not got that at the moment, but it’s not been a problem for us because the quality we’ve got in the forward positions guarantees us goals. We really should have put it to bed in the first half.”