Date: 13th September 2011 at 3:24pm
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Champions League

Can United put Wembley behind them?

The music, that unforgetable tune, will, on Wednesday be ringing in our ears again as United walk out at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica.

Whilst Benfica aren’t, one could argue, one of Europe’s super teams any more this does promise to be a great fixture to open up United’s latest assault on the greatest tournament in club football. Can the number one team in Manchester go one step further this year and take on the might of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta? Wednesday’s fixture won’t give a definitive answer but it will certainly give us a hint as to whether they will or not.

United have brushed aside everyone thrown at them so far and have been scoring goals for fun and this is down to, in no uncertain terms, the form of Rooney, Young and Anderson. Earlier in the year I wrote an article suggesting that Ando should, could and would step up to the plate and this he certainly has. His composure, maturity and efficacy with the ball has allowed Ferguson to evolve Cleverley’s education and, also, allowed Nani and Young the freedom to push forward free of any guilt and free, also, of too much responsibility with regards having to track back. With these two out wide and Rooney and whoever partners him on Wednesday night, United should keep Benfica on their toes with or without the bahll. Having a costant counter attaking threat has always been an effictive offensive weapon in Europe and one that Ferguson can proudly boast in his armory.

The big team news coming From Old Trafford is that Rio hasn’t boarded the plane to Portugal. This, apparently, is for him to rest as opposed to signalling a new injury. However, this will only further Phil Jones’ development as a United player and will give Jonny Evans more time to play alongside him and forge a partnership for the future. The big challenge for this pair (and, more than likely, Smalling and Evra) is to accept the challenge laid down by last year’s defence who went 540 minutes without conceding a single goal on the road in Europe.

This is somewhere that De Gea must also step up and where, I’m sure, he will. This European type of fixture and the vibrant and robust back four he’s likely to have in front of him will ensure he has his most comfortable and confident game. Couple this with a clean sheet at the Reebok and the young Spaniard can look forward to a very bright future.

However, in saying this, I must hold back an ounce or two of over-confidence and hope United’s back five do the same as Benfica have proven to have found themselves goal scorer in new signing, Nolito, from Barcélona. He, has managed to score in each of his first five outings for Benfica and will have to be watched carefully.

Up front I can’t see Ferguson replacing Hernández with Berbatov tomorrow although I would love to see Berbá get some more plying time very soon. Rooney is, arguably, coming close to some of his greatest ever club form and should relish tomorrow’s fixture.

For Benfica it’s a chance for them to continue their as-eqally-if-not-better-than-our impressive start to the season. As a United fan I thought we had quite a busy summer and I’ll never forget the summer of ’96 when Solskjaer, Cryuff, Poborsky, Johnsen and van der Gouw signed. Benfica’s summer of transfer dealings dwarf anything that’s been seen at United. In fact, their summer comings and goings are akin to a poor man’s Man City summer. Twelve players have joined and no fewer than twelve have left the club.

This season has seen them go eight consecutive fixtures unbeaten with their last four fixtures resulting in victory. Players such as Nolito, Aimar and Saviola will ensure that United do not rest up in Portugal. Quite simply, United, whilst not fearing them, should certainly not underestimate the challange that the ominously nicknamed Eagles pose. This author would be delighted with a one-nil away win but will secretly, as always, be hoping for more!

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