Sunday, 27 November 2011

United struggle against Benfica as qualification goes down to the wire.

Manchester United were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Benfica, giving the Portuguese side the chance to top the group with victory in two week’s time.

An own goal from Phil Jones inside three minutes gave Benfica an early lead, however Dimitar Berbatov levelled on the half hour point with a guided header past the impressive Artur Moraes. The Red’s wasted a succession of chances before Darren Fletcher gave them a deserved lead, but they couldn’t contain their Portuguese counterparts and just two minutes after Fletcher had scored, the classy Aimar tapped home from close range.

Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes from the narrow victory away to Swansea on the weekend, with Berbatov making a rare appearance in a frustrating season for the Bulgarian. The most notable absentee was Wayne Rooney, who missed out completely due to injury.

Back to back victories over Otelul Galati had given United the chance to resurrect a disappointing Champions League campaign; however the draw means they have to avoid defeat next week in Basel to ensure progression into the knock out rounds.

Benfica opened the scoring after just three minutes in unfortunate fashion, as Jones guided the ball into his own goal. Nicolas Gaitain, a reported target for Manchester United, did well down the Benfica right, and his cross was converted in by the unlucky Jones.

Manchester United didn’t react to going behind well, and the Old Trafford faithful were left frustrated as the Red Devils struggled to maintain possession of the ball against a technically good Benfica side.

A Nani solo run gave brought some life into United. The Portuguese winger beat four Benfica players before being crudely taken down by Ezequiel Garay. Though the resulting free-kick came to nothing, it was the first sign United were back in the game.

A spell of United possession took its toll on Benfica as the Red Devils levelled through Berbatov. Young took a free kick quickly, guiding the ball out wide to Nani, whose cross was brilliant, and Berbatov guided the header home.

Literally a minute later Young should’ve turned the game on its head; however the former Villa winger couldn’t find a finish when one-on-one with Moraes. As the game became more stretched, Aimar nearly gave Benfica their second lead, but he failed to beat David De Gea from a tight angle.

Half time came and went and United came out of the traps the quicker in the second half and missed a couple of chances in quick succession. Firstly Berbatov did well to find Young whose shot was saved well before Nani from a free kick failed to test the Benfica keeper.

Fabio Da Silva really should’ve given Manchester United the lead, but well when placed he decided against sliding it past the keeper, instead opting for the lofted route, which Moraes dealt with easily.

At this point United were flying, and Fletcher gave the Reds a deserved lead. A Patrice Evra cross was perfect for the Scotsman, the keeper saved Fletcher’s initial effort, however he couldn’t missed the follow up from a yard out.

Having turned the game around, most people inside Old Trafford expected the home side to go on and seal the game with a third; but it was the away side who scored the decisive fourth goal of the match moments after United had gone in front.

A poor clearance from De Gea feel perfectly for Bruno Cesar whose cross wasn’t dealt with by Rio Ferdinand and Aimar, just like Fletcher, couldn’t miss with the goal gaping.

Berbatov blew an incredible chance to edge United ahead for a second time. Fabio did brilliantly to find the former Spurs man, and with just Moraes in the way, Berbatov smashed his volley over the bar.

With United in desperate need of a goal, as Benfica not only levelled the game, but edged ahead in the head-to-head matches between the two, brought on Javier Hernandez; however it was Benfica’s Rodrigo who went the closest to getting a late winner. The former Bolton man beat two players before putting his arrowed shot narrowly wide of De Gea’s near post.

Three minutes of extra time were signalled, but the customary United late onslaught never arrived and Benfica left Old Trafford not only with a deserved point, but the group momentum, as the draw ensured they will qualify from Group C; with first place also in the Portuguese sides hands.

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