Though the route taken hasn’t been as straight as it sometimes is or should be, Manchester United find themselves in a familiar position tonight. With a win over visiting Benfica, United will secure a place in the Champions League round of 16 for the sixth straight season. Of course, the job may only be halfway done even with a win, because if Basel win tonight against Otelul Galati, United will still need to get at least a draw next month in Switzerland to assure top spot in the group, which in these parts, is more full-on requirement than expectation.
United and Benfica faced off in Lisbon on matchday one, and it was mission accomplished for United, as they achieved the minimum required from such trips.
Benfica took a 24th-minute lead through their Paraguayan scoring machine, Oscar Cardozo, but United equalized in the 42nd, with Ryan Giggs sending an unstoppable rocket past Benfica keeper Artur. That proved to be all of the scoring for the night, thanks in part to Anders Lindegaard, whose excellent performance ensured that United came away with a point.
Along with being in a solid position to advance to the round of 16, Benfica are off to a fine start domestically as well, as they’re level on points with first-placed Porto.
Overall, Benfica haven’t lost yet in 20 competitive matches this season, extending that streak with a win in the Portuguese Cup last weekend.
Like United, they’ve been grinding out a lot of results, but they’ve been getting the job done for the most part. However, they did drop the ball in the last round of Champions League matches, allowing a second-half equalizer at home to Basel in a 1-1 draw, a result that handed United the advantage for top spot heading into tonight’s tie.
Cardozo’s been banging in the goals for Benfica over the last several seasons, but as of late, they’ve been getting a lift from young Spanish forward Rodrigo. Rodrigo, who spent last season on loan at Bolton, has scored five goals in his last four games for Benfica, and in that span, he also notched a hat trick for Spain’s U-21s against Estonia.
Another man who’ll have plenty of eyes on him tonight is their talented Argentine attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, who continues to be heavily linked with United. The 23-year-old has had an assist in each of Benfica’s group stage matches, and if he performs well tonight at Old Trafford (but not too well, please and thank you), that could very well step up the likelihood of United making a move for him in the near future.
Against Benfica in September, Fergie didn’t exactly put out the best starting XI or formation that he could have, but the mission that night was different than it is tonight.
So then, we should expect a stronger lineup tonight, especially if Ashley Young finally returns from his toe injury.
What will that strong lineup produce? In winning their last five matches in all competitions, United have posted five clean sheets in a row. Nemanja Vidic is serving the second match of his two-match suspension tonight, but even with Vidic out, United are still solid at the back.
But will United’s attack have enough bite to notch multiple goals? United’s last three Premier League wins have all been by a 1-0 scoreline, and the home fixture against Otelul Galati would’ve also been a 1-0 win if an Otelul defender hadn’t nicely redirected a wayward Rooney effort. We might not see United’s attack back at its best until Cleverley, Welbeck, and good Anderson are all fully fit again, but with Young, Nani, Rooney, and Chicharito (or Berba?), there’s still enough firepower there to make some things happen.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t expect more than what we’ve seen lately. It’d be a bonus if we saw more, but against a talented side, a quality defensive performance and a one-goal win shouldn’t be looked at unfavorably, even if it isn’t desired.
As luck would have it though, just when I say something like the above, United will go out, score three or four goals, and win convincingly. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but you can never tell when United will have that dominant performance.
In the end, when looking at the big picture, a win, whether by 1-0 or 10-0, counts for the same thing, so however United get the three points, it’ll be job done. Will it be job well done? We shall see.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Benfica
- Newcastle United lining up summer deal for Man Utd midfielder Scott McTominay
- Man Utd may not sign Harry Kane amid fresh Tottenham stance
- Marcus Rashford withdraws from England squad through injury
- Man United could persuade RB Salzburg & RB Leipzig to cancel Benjamin Sesko deal by paying higher fee
- Man Utd lagging behind in Jude Bellingham transfer race
- Former Manchester United target Ismaila Sarr set to leave Watford this summer
- Man Utd reminded why they should sign Joao Palhinha this summer
- Roy Keane blasts Man Utd performance against Fulham
- 16: Man Utd star has outscored club’s top transfer target in 2023
- ‘You never know’: Frenkie de Jong reacts when asked about joining Man Utd this summer