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Man United's triumphant Champions League return spoiled by Paul Pogba injury

MANCHESTER, England -- Three quick points from Manchester United's 3-0 win over FC Basel at Old Trafford in the group stage of the Champions League:

1. Pogba injury blights United's winning return

It was almost the perfect return to the Champions League for Manchester United, but the 3-0 Group A victory against FC Basel at Old Trafford was marred by captain Paul Pogba limping off with a hamstring injury early in the first half.

Pogba, handed the captain's armband for the game for the first time by manager Jose Mourinho, lasted just 19 minutes of the action before stopping in his tracks and clutching his hamstring.

Manchester UnitedManchester United
FC BaselFC Basel
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Although his replacement, Marouane Fellaini, came off the bench and opened the scoring with a 35th minute header, the loss of Pogba is more likely to be felt against Premier League opposition rather than limited Swiss outfit Basel.

The French midfielder has started the season in outstanding form, showing the qualities that prompted United to pay a then-world-record £89 million for the player in August 2016.

So his absence, and the length of it, will be a headache for Mourinho ahead of Sunday's clash with Everton and beyond.

Nobody else in United's squad possesses Pogba's athleticism in midfield, so he will be a big loss for Mourinho's team.

Manchester United were easy victors against Basel, but Paul Pogba's injury could have serious consequences going forward.

The only positive from the injury will come in the fact that Pogba immediately signalled to the bench and went off, thereby preventing further damage.

Against Basel, United were able to overcome the loss of Pogba, with Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford scoring in a comfortable win.

Another three points against CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital later this month will put United firmly in control of the group.

2.  Fellaini shows why he is priceless to Mourinho

Mourinho makes no secret of his admiration for Fellaini, and the Belgian midfielder repaid his manager's faith once again with the opening goal against Basel.

Mourinho claimed earlier this week that he feels "weak" without the former Everton man in his squad. He also insisted at the start of the season that Fellaini was too valuable to United to be sold when Galatasaray were keen to sign him during the transfer window.

At the end of last season, sources told ESPN FC that Mourinho would recommend to the United board that Fellaini get a new contract with the player's current deal due to expire in June 2018, but so far, nothing has been agreed to or signed.

If Mourinho is having to convince the board to sanction an extended contract for Fellaini, the man himself is doing a good job of hammering the point home to the Old Trafford money men with his contributions.

Fellaini's style ensures he will always divide opinion among the United supporters, who prefer to see players with silk and skill rather than the more basic qualities of Fellaini.

But he rarely lets his manager or United down -- last season's red card against Manchester City a rare example of that -- and his headed goal against Basel eased the pressure on the team and laid the foundations for a comfortable opening game win in Group A.

Some would suggest that while United rely so heavily on Fellaini, they can never be considered to be a team capable of challenging for the biggest honours.

He may be a means to an end, but he has earned his manager's respect, and the fans now largely back him too.

Oft-criticised, Marouane Fellaini tallied a goal against Basel to continue his turnaround at United under Jose Mourinho.

3. Full-backs reveal Mourinho's plan, but are they the answer?

Mourinho let slip during the summer that the elusive fourth target he wanted to sign for Manchester United was a wing-back, and the thinking behind that idea was evident as Basel were brushed aside at Old Trafford.

United's opening goal came following a cross by right-back Ashley Young that Fellaini headed in from 6 yards.

Then after the break, Romelu Lukaku made it six goals in six games for United with another header, this time from a Daley Blind cross.

Despite playing with a back four -- Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof impressed on a quiet night at centre-half -- Young and Blind were encouraged to push forward at every opportunity and, at times, United were playing with a back two as the two full-backs attacked down the flanks.

At 32, Young is clearly not the best option for United's future, with his natural attacking instincts also denying him the defensive outlook required to make the position work. Antonio Valencia is a better option, but again, the Ecuadorean is a converted winger.

On the left, Blind lacks the pace to get down the flank, defensively or offensively, against top-class opposition, while Matteo Darmian is naturally right-footed.

Luke Shaw could be the solution on the left, with the England defender possessing the ability to defend and attack down that flank, but Mourinho clearly still has doubts over the former Southampton man.

But without wingers in his squad, attacking full-backs are crucial to Mourinho's tactical plan. He just needs to find the men for the job.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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