United belong to 'second level'

Sports | 14 Sep 2017

Manchester United cannot be considered among the top band of teams in the Champions League, manager Jose Mourinho insisted after his side brushed aside Basel 3-0 on their competition return.

Goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Marcus Rashford sandwiched Romelu Lukaku's first goal in the competition proper as United opened their Group A campaign in straightforward fashion at Old Trafford.

There were eye-catching wins elsewhere - Barcelona beating Juventus 3-0, big-spending Paris Saint-Germain crushing Celtic 5-0 and Chelsea thumping Azerbaijan minnows Qarabag 6-0 - and Mourinho said United could not currently be considered in the same bracket.

"I think for these teams that you are speaking of and for the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Bayerns, the Champions League starts in February," Mourinho said. "Now is just the warming-up. And in February, when us English teams are trying to survive after the winter period, they are fresh and ready after these warm-ups.

"I think we are in the second level. The second level is, 'let's qualify, let's make the points to qualify for the knockout phase. When we do that, let's enjoy playing against the big guys'."

This was United's first game in the top continental competition since December 2015. An injury to Paul Pogba aside, United could scarcely have asked for a more straightforward reintroduction to a tournament they have won three times. But Mourinho criticized his players for easing off after Lukaku's 53rd-minute header put them 2-0 up, accusing them of playing "PlayStation football" decorated by unnecessary "flicks and tricks."

Pogba left the stadium on crutches after being forced off in the 18th minute with a suspected hamstring problem.

In Group D, Lionel Messi netted twice and helped set up Ivan Rakitic for another at Nou Camp as Barcelona exacted revenge for their quarter-final loss to Juventus last season.

In Group B, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani all scored as PSG began their campaign by routing Celtic in Glasgow. "They are a really special team and they are going to be close to winning it for sure," Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers said of PSG.


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