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From bad to worse for Manchester United

If there was one positive that Manchester United fans could cling to on Wednesday it was the fact that at least Manchester City was also eliminated from the Champions League.

Because for fans of Sir Alex Ferguson's team, there was surely nothing good to be taken away from the team's shocking 2-1 loss in Switzerland against FC Basel which sent last season's finalists crashing out of the competition.

United needed just a draw against the underdog Swiss side to advance, but after conceding a goal in the opening 10 minutes, the Red Devils showed little fight, lacked any creativity in attack and displayed a surprising lack of poise in defense.

Add to that the fact that captain Nemanja Vidic looks likely to miss an extended period of time after suffering a first-half knee injury, and Wednesday's trip to Basel has to go down as a complete disaster for the defending English champions.

It was just one week ago that Ferguson watched his team lose as a heavy favorite at home in the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup against Crystal Palace.

But that defeat could be easily explained away considering the fact that the Carling Cup is viewed by some clubs in England as a mere inconvenience.

However, Wednesday's loss will stay with the team much longer as United failed to advance from a group which had to be considered one of the weakest in the competition.

City can at least claim that it finished one point out in the toughest group, while United, which was a prohibitive favorite to win its group, went out with a whimper.

Ferguson did his best to downplay the pressure on United ahead of Wednesday's match. But based on its performance in the previous five Champions League group stage matches, the fact that the club was never able to get out of first gear shouldn't be entirely surprising.

United's only two wins came against lowly Otelul, which failed to secure a point in six games, while both Benfica and Basel were able to claim a draw in their visits to Old Trafford.

The club never really got going in the Champions League despite its favorable draw, and now United has an uphill climb if it wants to salvage anything from the rest of the season.

Finishing third in your Champions League group allows you to drop into the Europa League, but United would have been better off just finishing fourth and forgetting about Europe altogether.

With a five-point deficit to make up on City in the league, Ferguson's men can do without the Thursday matches in the Europa League to be followed by a weekend fixture in league play.

Instead, a squad that has been hit by a number of injuries will be stretched a bit thinner, something that doesn't bode well for hopes of another league title.

United started the season in such blistering form in the opening few games, which included an 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal and a 3-1 victory over Chelsea.

But since that win over the Blues on September 18, United has been anything but convincing, going 5-1-3 in its next nine games, including a humiliating 6-1 defeat at home to City.

The Red Devils also scored more than one goal in that stretch just once, and have failed to hit the heights of their early-season form for over two months now.

Having to grind out results game after game simply caught up with them on Wednesday, but at least United's next five matches in the league come against bottom-half teams, which presents a chance for the side to turn things around and get back to top form.

Wayne Rooney will be counted on to carry the attack with injuries to Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck just getting back to full fitness.

But Rooney has now gone eight games without a goal in all competitions after starting the season with eight in his first four games.

Defensively United will also be tested as a lengthy absence for Vidic and the always questionable health of Rio Ferdinand will place increased pressure on young defenders Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans.

United is a team that has become known for rising to the challenge when things get tough, which is a notion that promises to be put to the test in the coming months.