Basel beat Romanian champions Otelul Galati 2-1 on Wednesday in a first ever meeting between the two sides. The Swiss champions, who are undertaking their fourth UEFA Champions League group campaign, will be glad to have avoided a repeat of last season's poor start against Romanian opposition when they slumped to a 2-1 defeat at CFR Cluj. Thorsten Fink's team went on to finish third behind Bayern Munich and Roma in Group E last year - winning two of their six games - before dropping into the Europa League, where they went out at the round of 32 stage to Spartak Moscow. With Wednesday night's victory, Basel have already equalled their European home form from last season, where they won just once in four attempts. Fink's side went into Wednesday night's game on the back of two victories in their latest domestic outings, the most recent a 4-0 win over Servette FC on Saturday. The Swiss champions next travel to Man Utd on Sept 27, before hosting the Red Devils on December 7 in their last Group C game.
Basel started this game with a 4-4-2 formation which saw Marco Streller employed slightly ahead of strike partner Alexander Frei up front. Fink started with ten of the side which beat Servette 4-0 last time, with Xherdan Shaqiri dropping out as he began a two-match ban, being replaced by fellow teenager Granit Xhaka. The Swiss particularly missed the creative spark of Shaqiri, with little service being given to Streller and Alexander Frei up front as Otelul Galati dominated the opening exchanges. Indeed it was only in the 27th minute that Basel had their first shot - a fine long range effort from Alexander Frei. Fink swapped Xhaka and Fabian Frei on the flanks on the half hour mark and his side finally opened up the opposition in the 39th minute when Streller turned and crossed from the right and Fabian Frei ghosted into the box to head home - his fourth goal in the last three games. In the second period there was again little service to the front pairing, but, after Otelul Galati had scored, the hard-working skipper Streller won the penalty to decide the game which Alexander Frei coolly slotted home.
Fink plied his trade as a midfielder in his native Germany and helped Bayern Munich to lift four Bundesliga titles, three German Cups and the 2001 UEFA Champions League before he was forced to end his playing career in 2006 after sustaining cartilage damage in his knee. Having already gained his Pro Licence, he joined Salzburg in the summer of 2006 as reserve-team coach and won promotion in his first season. He then stepped up to work with the senior side as assistant to head coach Giovanni Trapattoni before accepting an offer from German third-division club Ingolstadt in January 2008, leading them to promotion at the end of that campaign. Fink was then dismissed by the club in April 2009 with the team in danger of relegation before he was appointed by Basel that June. He led the Swiss side to the domestic double in 2010 and again won the league title last term.
While Basel created little going forward, they were solid at first at the back, with keeper Yann Sommer not having a save to make until the 52nd minute when he got down well to his left to deny John Ibeh. Basel's back four were not afraid to put their bodies on the line to charge down shots early on, particularly David Abraham, while holding midfielder Cabral provided good protection. However, the defence froze for the visitors' goal, with Marius Pena the only player to react after Liviu Antal's effort was saved. Going forward, Fabian Frei is an obvious threat given he has scored four goals in his last three games while right back Markus Steinhofer showed good pace, as did left back Park Joo-Ho in the second period. Streller is a physical presence up front and also showed his technical skill and passing ability with the turn and cross with led to Basel's opener, while he then showed great desire to win the penalty which decided the game.
Basel coach Fink will be disappointed with the lack of creativity from his side, which will also be missing the spark of Shaqiri against the Red Devils next time. Alexander Frei and Streller had little service upfront as the Swiss put in a workmanlike display which will leave other Group C contenders Man United and Benfica with plenty of hope ahead of their upcoming clashes with the Swiss champions.
Captain Streller was the best player for Basel, setting up the opening goal and then winning the penalty to decide the game. The tall striker is a physical presence, but also skilful on the ball, as he showed in the build-up to the first goal with his turn and cross. His desire to win the game was shown when he went in hard to win a knock down header late on which Alexander Frei just failed to get onto. Fabian Frei will also receive plenty of respect from opponents after the midfielder was on the scoresheet again with his fourth goal in his last three games.
Manchester United will be confident of beating Basel at Old Trafford next time after the Swiss champions' workmanlike performance here. Clearly missing the creativity of Shaqiri, Fink's side struggled to fashion opportunities against the Champions League newcomers. That said, Sir Alex Ferguson's side will be wary of the threat posed by Streller, who is a handful, while Fabian Frei is in rich goal-scoring form. But Otelul Galati created enough chances to give the Red Devils hope of earning their first Group C success after their opening draw at Benfica.