MANCHESTER - Jose Mourinho has admitted Manchester United are not yet in the same realm as Europe’s elite after 644 days away from the Champions League.
United’s last experience of the competition ended in a humiliating group-stage exit under Louis van Gaal in 2015.
And Mourinho has tried to temper expectations before Basle arrive at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, citing a cluster of superpowers who are way ahead of them.
Real Madrid have won three of the last four titles, with Barcelona clinching the other in 2015. Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich regularly reach the latter stages.
"In the Champions League there are four or five teams with an incredible level of quality, of experience, of know-how. That’s what makes the difference," said Mourinho. "Apart from that, there are many teams in the Champions League that are very similar to teams in the Europa League.
"We have to try to go to the last 16 and enjoy that special knockout phase with the best teams in Europe. To be back is just to go back to the natural habitat for Manchester United.
"Being humble is to admit the opponent has the same ambition as we have and that the opponent can come here, like they did in the past, and give Manchester United a bad taste."
Tonight brings a home debut for £31million signing Victor Lindelof, who struggled during July’s tour of America and in the Super Cup final defeat by Real Madrid. The central defender has made the bench just once since then, but will partner Chris Smalling.
Neither has played a minute of competitive football for more than a month but Mourinho claimed both would have started even if Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were not suspended.
"It is just normal," Mourinho added. "I don’t think Bailly and Jones are better than them, I think they are the same level.
"It is easier for Lindelof to play Champions League. It is more comparable to the Portuguese style. He’s an intelligent kid, a very good player, good potential. There are reasons for Eric and Jones to be worried."
United are still fretting on Marouane Fellaini’s fitness after the midfielder started Belgium’s World Cup victory over Greece despite a calf problem. Mourinho said: "He’s a very important player for me. I feel weaker without Fellaini."