Manchester United picked up a crucial away win in the Champions League, beating Benfica 1-0 in Portugal. It was a peak Mourinho performance, as the visitors defended well, and capitalised on Benfica’s mistakes.
United had the chance to really assert themselves in this Champions League group with a big win in Portugal. It was an even bigger match for Benfica, who have had a tough start to this seasons campaign. A loss at home to CSKA was followed up by an embarrassing 5-0 loss away to Basel put them at 0 points, making the contest a must win.
Mourinho had a tough task creating a starting lineup with the amount of injuries and suspensions. The most interesting selection came at the centre-back position, as Lindelof was given the opportunity to start against his former club. He hasn’t played much in the Premier League, but it was the third start in as many Champions League games for the Swede. Mourinho also paired Matic with Ander Herrera in the middle of the park, as United wanted to shore up the defense in a tough away match. The forward line was the standard one, as Lukaku was flanked by Rashford and Mkhitaryan.
Benfica came out attacking, knowing that a win was needed. On two occasions in the first couple of minutes, Benfica got the ball out wide, but couldn’t put in a good cross.
Benfica continued to pressure United, and almost grabbed a goal. Grimaldo, the promising Spanish left back, dribbled by the entire United midfield before whipping in a delightful low cross. It fell to Salvio, but the winger put his shot wide.
It was clear to see early on that this was a Mourinho coach team playing an away match. Benfica got the ball, and got it forward through their wing-backs, but United refused to allow any space in behind.
However, the absence of Pogba was evident to see when United tried to go forward. Matic and Herrera are excellent midfielders, but they don’t have as long of a passing range as the Frenchman. Lukaku suffered, as no one could get him the ball, and he was quite isolated early on.
United were able to create their first chance at the half hour mark. Mata found Blind on the left wing, and his cross picked out Rashford back post, but his header went over the bar.
United got more and more into the game, and started to control possession. Matic went on a fantastic run, but his shot was saved by the Benfica keeper, preventing the Serbian from grabbing a goal against his former club.
A poor corner from Benfica was well cleared, and gave United a chance on the counter attack. However, Mkhitaryan was unable to settle the ball quickly, and his shot went well wide.
United started the second half direct, as a long ball found Rashford on the wing. The move didn’t lead to much, as Matic’s rushed shot was went well wide.
Some nice passing in the midfield lead to Matic finding some space near the top of the box. He went for the long range screamer, but this attempt just went over the bar.
Rashford went for a spectacular effort soon after, as the Benfica keeper was off his line, but it was punched away from danger.
The game came to life following a horrendous goalkeeping error from young keeper Mile Svilar. A free kick from close to the halfway line was whipped in by Rashford. The Benfica keeper backtracked to catch the ball, but backed up too far, carrying the ball into the net. United had been the better team, but got very lucky with the goal. Not only did it give Mourinho’s side the lead, but it forced Benfica to push further forward.
The Benfica players thought they could’ve had a penalty when a cross was blocked by Valencia in the box. Replays showed it clearly hit off his chest, nowhere near his arm.
Rashford needed the trainers to escort him off the pitch, which was a very worrisome sight for United fans. Martial came on to replace him, and everyone watching will hope Rashford was taken off as a precaution.
Martial quickly picked the ball up, and danced around his marker with ease. His shot from a tight angle was saved well by the Benfica keeper. Then, Jesse Lingard came on for Juan Mata.
Benfica had a phenomenal chance to equalise from a corner. It was whipped it to the near post, and Blind missed his clearance. It fell to a Benfica player, but he couldn’t keep his volley on target.
Scott McTominay was given his Champions League debut, coming on for Mkhitaryan.
He made an immediate impact, drawing a foul in the midfield. As a result, Benfica defender Luisao was sent off for a 2nd yellow. It was a disappointing way to end the game for the veteran, who had played well against United.
The win put United well into 1st place in Group A, with 9 points out of 9. Basel jumped to 2nd after an impressive away win away to CSKA Moscow, who fell to 3rd. Benfica, on 0 points, are in dead last, with little hope of qualifying to the knockout rounds.
Manchester United travel to Huddersfield Town on Saturday in an important Premier League matchup. United’s next Champions League match is at Old Trafford, where the Red Devils will host Benfica.