Home » Champ League, Latest » Match Report: Man United 2 Benfica 2

Sir Alex Ferguson hoped to evoke images of Manchester United’s glorious past to see off Benfica.

Instead, his side was haunted by the memories of more painful, recent past as their defensive self-destruction returned with potentially calamitous consequences.

Phil Jones’ third minute own goal could be considered unfortunate, but the cursory glances of Ferguson when David De Gea rediscovered his early season form to hand the Portuguese a point do not bode well for the Spanish keeper.

Ferguson slumped back in his chair, scarcely believing the lead so diligently acquired had been squandered by such inexplicable carelessness when De Gea failed to adequately clear a Jones back pass.

That this happened within a minute of Darren Fletcher putting United in front compounded the irritation.

United’s errors made for a spectacle worthy of the billing, but will also have shaken confidence the defensive scars of a month ago have been fully healed.

The Champions League is not supposed to be this good, this soon.

Traditionally, the group stage is so tedious, there have been occasions in Novembers gone by when it has been necessary to check the tournament’s pulse.

Ferguson’s pre-match claim “it feels like the competition is really coming alive now,” sounded like a poorly disguised euphemism.

The literal translation from Fergie-speak is United’s toil had already extended to the point of indecency before Benfica’s nimble feet threatened further damage. Europe is meant to blossom in the New Year, not before the grottos open for business.

In fact, Ferguson’s words proved to be prophecy as much as observation, although he will be as concerned as much as thrilled by such an enthralling tit-for-tat against illustrious and impressive opposition.

For all the bravado about history and drama when a visit from Benfica unleashes the ghostly vibrations of previous momentous meetings, Ferguson was yearning for the dull routine of inevitable progression he’s been accustomed to.

From the moment Phil Jones’ shin helplessly gifted the Portuguese a third minute lead following Nicolas Gaitan’s cross, there was no prospect of comfortable progress here.

The compulsion was to check the match programme to ensure we had not fast- forwarded to the knockout phase. One end to end sequence midway through the first half caused such breathless excitement even the crowd was demanding a timeout. Ashley Young was denied by goalkeeper Artur when sent clear by Berbatov.

Thirty seconds later David De Gea shoved aside a Pablo Aimer strike, Benfica’s unbeaten record in twenty fixtures gave this an air of trickiness before a ball was kicked. United’s team sheet added to the apprehension, although Wayne Rooney’s absence should have been no surprise.

It was inevitable once Ferguson declared the striker would be okay on the eve of the game, his usual duplicitousness on matters of team selection all too predictable.

The biggest surprise was Nani was in the side, given United’s propensity to ensure the player asked to participate in pre-match media duties is usually nowhere to be seen on the match night. The Portuguese winger rapidly established himself as United’s brightest hope after their dismal start.

Ferguson’s casual drop of Cristiano Ronaldo’s name in reference to Nani’s improvement was barely commented upon. That is a sign of how rapidly he is fulfilling potential.

His trickery revived the Old Trafford crowd as much as his team mates and it was no surprise when the winger’s cross repaired the damage of the early setback on 30 minutes as Berbatov headed expertly past Artur.

Berbatov doesn’t strike you as a man who does rejuvenation. His range of emotions tends to oscillate between the casual and the slightly bothered.

Infuriating though his lack of urgency is, there are moments during each of his four erratic campaigns at Old Trafford, were the wisdom of his £30m purchase four years ago is validated. He looked like he was bothered about saving his United career last night, which has not always been the case.

United took the ascendancy in the moments after half-time, with Berbatov increasingly enjoying himself in the Rooney role.

Fabio should have secured the lead on 55 minutes, only to tamely shoot at Artur, but the momentum was now shifting permanently towards the Stretford End.

There was a sense of inevitability when United’s second finally arrived on 59 minutes.

Evra’s cross found Fletcher and he converted after two attempts. That made what followed even more excruciating for Ferguson De Gea’s immediate error, kicking straight to Bruno Cesar under no pressure, ended United’s hopes of consolidating their advantage.

Cesar’s surge and cross struck Rio Ferdinand on the back, and Aimar made no mistake.

Stung by the equaliser, United reverted to sloppiness and anxiety in the closing stages.

Berbatov wasted a chance to volley his second 12 minutes from the end, but Rodrigo missed an even better opportunity to win it on 90 minutes.

Their Champions League future is just about still in their own hands, but after confidently emphasising the importance of winning his group, United will head to Basel still uncertain of qualification.

Related Posts

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.