Sir Alex Ferguson was hoping to become the first manager in Champions League history to win 100 games in the competition but his Manchester United side failed to beat Benfica at Old Trafford. The result means that the Premier League winners have to at least draw in Switzerland next time out to secure progression.
United’s European campaign thus far has comprised off poor displays filled with defensive errors and lacklustre passing. Things were ominous for the Red Devils when Phil Jones put past his own ‘keeper in the third minute to give the Portuguese side an early lead. United had failed to beat Basel at home already and put in a less than impressive performance against Minos Otelul Galati at the Theatre of Dreams. The signs were once again on the wall but the home side turned the screw and began to turn the tide.
The returning Ashley Young partnered out of favour Dimitar Berbatov up front and it was the former Villa man that had United’s first sight of goal after good build up play down the left. It was down that side that United’s equaliser came but this time Young was the provider. Berbatov had not found the net in Europe for three years but his headed flew past Artur. Just minutes later the roles were reversed as the Bulgarian fed Young but he couldn’t slot past the Benfica shot stopper.
United pushed on from there but failed to gain the momentum going into the break but it was after the interval the home side began to dominate proceedings. Their deserved goal came just before the break as the visitors’ defence dropped deeper and deeper. Evra’s pinpoint cross was volleyed goal wards by Fletcher but the ‘keeper pulled off a fine save only for the Scot to tap home the rebound.
It seemed as if United’s dominance had paid off and they would go on and win the game to take pole position in Group C but the visitors had different ideas. Just 80 seconds later David de Gea’s poor clearance was picked up by Cesar who’s powerful cross rebounded off Ferdinand into the path of Pablo Aimar to slot home.
The momentum had swung once again as Benfica looked just as likely to go on and win it but in truth neither side had a clear cut chance to win it until Berbatov was found all alone by Fabio but he failed to hit the target.
The permutations are clear though as we head into game week 6. United travel to Basel knowing they need at least a draw to qualify. Benfica take on bottom side Otelul and assuming they win then Sir Alex’s men cannot finish top and possibly face either Barcelona or Real Madrid if they qualify.
Speaking after the game, Ferguson was happy with the performance but once again a lack of concentration at the back cost them.
“We played so well tonight, we had great chances and played good football. It’s a cruel game at times and if we had held the lead for a few more minutes then we would have been fine”
“It’s going to be a hard game [in Basel] but when the chips are down we are at our best.We have to win in a good style”
The last 12 visitors to score 2 or more goals in UCL matches at Old Trafford have all failed to win, 5 draws and 7 defeats. Benfica have a better H2H result than United and Basel. Only one of these clubs can get past them.
For more stats and updates, follow me on Twitter @RyanBailey37