Manchester United arrived at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon tonight hoping to preserve an impressive 18-month run without an away defeat in the Champions League.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson made eight changes to his starting line-up from Saturday’s 5-0 win at Bolton, with this weekend’s visit of Chelsea most certainly at the forefront of his mind.
First choice goalkeeper David De Gea was given a rest, as his understudy Anders Lindegaard was given some game time. Lindegaard repaid Ferguson’s faith in him as he made a couple of fine saves on his Champions League debut.
Despite the squad rotation, there was still no place in the starting XI for striker Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian once again consigned to the bench as Ferguson opted to play Rooney as a lone striker, with Javier Hernandez brought on as a second half sub.
Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher looked off the pace as they struggled to get a grip on the game in midfield, and Wayne Rooney looked an isolated figure upfront with neither Ashley Young nor Tom Cleverley playing behind him.
Benfica’s Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo opened the scoring with a great piece of individual skill to turn Johnny Evans and fire a shot past Lindegaard in the 24th minute; the Portuguese team getting their reward for piling early pressure on the visitors.
United hit back just before half-time, when Ryan Giggs fired home an equaliser.
The Welsh midfielder received a pass from Antonio Valencia from the right, and worked himself into enough space on the edge of the penalty area to thump a fierce shot into the top corner.
Giggs’s goal – which made him the oldest scorer in the Champions League – was the undoubted highlight of an otherwise ordinary performance from the in-form Premier League champions
Benfica had the better chances of the second half. Substitute forward Nolito went close twice; the first after a fine flowing team move in the 66th minute that Lindergaard had to tip away and then he almost secured all three points at the death as he wriggled through a static United defence on 87 minutes, only to scuff a left footed strike into the side-netting from six yards.
Whilst Ferguson will not have been that impressed with his side’s performance, with seven players making their first starts this season he will be happy enough taking away a point from what will arguably be United’s toughest match of Group C.