Date: 23rd November 2011 at 12:00am
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Unlucky own goal early on

After four games which have seen Manchester United only take victories against Otelul Galati and only managing to register single points against Basel and Benfica, what originally appeared to be a straightforward group became a rather close and competitive set up. This week, it was the turn of Benfica to make the trip to Old Trafford, with Sir Alex Ferguson surely being aware that victory would make progression to the next round a near certainty. Prior to kick off, the main headlines regarding selection regarded the absence of Wayne Rooney due to a minor injury, with Dimitar Berbatov being given a rare opportunity heading up the United attack. Ashley Young was recalled to the side, taking position just off Berbatov, with Valencia and Nani also given starting berths. The suspension of Vidic saw Ferdinand partnered by Phil Jones at the heart of United’s defence. The game started brightly enough, with United looking to get forward, being awarded an early free kick that was squandered by Young. However, moments later, disaster as Gaitan was put through on the right, being allowed to cut in and put a cross through that was turned in by Phil Jones. In the early exchanges, with United looking a little shell shocked, the Portuguese side kept pressuring the ball, allowing the home side little room for manoeuvre and forcing the ball back to David De Gea on occasion. However as the half progressed United began to find themselves and adopt a plan of attack, with Nani notably displaying some slick dribbling finding his way past multiple players on more than one occasion and making a charge towards the box, only to be thwarted. With 30 minutes on the clock, the pressure paid off as Nani crossed for an unmarked Berbatov to head home with a well placed finish. United could well have gone into the break with the lead but this proved not to be the case. The second half showed a similar roller coaster pattern in a different order, with United making good on their possession as Evra found Fletcher with a good cross, for the Scottish midfielder to finish second time round. The joy was was cut almost immediately, as a poor back pass to De Gea was poorly cleared by the Spaniard himself, allowing Benfica to advance on the goal immediately, with Ferdinand failing to deal with the resulting cross, Pablo Aimar finished from close range. Although controlling much of the possession United failed to make it count, with mistakes becoming ever more evident and Benfica looking dangerous on the counter attack, and as the game drew to a close Benfica looked content to crowd out the midfield and settle for the draw, knowing full well that this was all that was needed to all but secure qualification for the next stage. And so it was, with United getting close but not doing enough to secure the 3 points, Ferguson and his side will be left to rue their mistakes and will hope to pick themselves up for the trip to Basel where they will hope to do what is necessary to see them progress. With that here are five things that may be taken from the game.

1) No Vidic – No Clean Sheet

Of course it would be foolish to claim that had Vidic been in the side that a clean sheet would be a foregone conclusion. However, Tuesday night, when Vidic was a notable absentee, United found their defensive frailties exposed on a number of occasions. The back four seemed to be less organised. lacking a voice to set them up accordingly. For example, in the first half, Ferdinand retrieving the ball at the back only to find no way forward and simply passed it back to De Gea again. As well as this, for all of United’s attacking potential, the possibility of being caught on the break by Benfica became a very real threat, something which they looked to do throughout the evening. Although own goals do happen, the build up that led to it showcased the way in which they may get exposed, with Gaitan being allowed all too easily to cut in and deliver a dangerous cross. The second goal was a result of simply trying to play it around at the back too much as did happen often, this time with too much pressure and a poor kick from De Gea (who’s distribution had been quite effective otherwise) that allowed Benfica to press. Perhaps United pressing forward too much made the situation worse at the back, but to concede so quickly after taking the lead is certainly a little worrying.

2) Berbatov showed he can still have an impact

After such a long spell where there have been few starts and plenty of bench warming places, fans will have been glad to see last season’s top scorer, Dimitar Berbatov given a chance to shine and give Ferguson reason not to forget him. Although for the opening part of the game he was relatively quiet, it can be argued that this was not helped by the shell shock United seemed to suffer with conceding the early goal, and the lack of service with Nani in particular looking keen to run the ball in himself than create much out of it. Although unmarked, his header for the goal must be commended, rising well and placing the ball superbly to bring the equaliser, although he was offside just about. In fact, many times in the game the Bulgarian striker looked to get involved, tracking back and providing avenues in which to create chances, unfortunately not always utilising this when he could be found in a good position. Although perhaps he should have done better when a good ball in gave him a first time volley that he put over the bar, his performance should otherwise be commended as one of the better ones on the evening.

3) Is there too much being asked of Phil Jones?

One cannot deny the talent that Phil Jones possesses as a defender and his ability to charge at opposing defences, running all evening and his tireless work rate. Certainly so far this season he has gone a long way to justify the transfer fee paid out for him and has featured in the most games for United so far. However, for all the praise being heaped on him, is there too much expected, considering he is being given responsibility at the heart of a United defence that has another player of relative inexperience in De Gea? It is easy to forget that the new recruit is only 19 years of age, as at times, particularly in the league he shows the qualities of a player far older, but at times on Tuesday night one got the impression that he may have been overwhelmed, although it can also be argued that his confidence will not have been helped by the own goal early on.

4) Too many wing-men going forward, flanks easily exposed

Much of the counter attacking potential that Benfica had came from their ability to use the width and some may argue that United did not help themselves in that respect, with Evra and Fabio the full backs often going forward and further up there was wingers Nani, Valencia and Young all given starting places. Of course Young was employed in a slightly different role on the evening but that still does not change the fact that there were 3 wide men up front with two more behind them who were keen to get forward, and for a counter attacking side it allowed them to exploit this far too much.

5) Rooney was missed

Despite dominating possession and showing attacking threat, United seemed to lack an end product, failing to make the most of the opportunities that presented themselves, sometimes proving wasteful and others simply giving the ball away far too easily. It felt as though without Rooney spearheading the attack and getting involved in the ways fans are so accustomed to, United lack the big game-changing potential that would otherwise be present. From this we can say that United may be somewhat stretched by injury with the impressive Cleverley ruled out until Christmas and with two players on the bench who had not featured at all so far this season, Rafael and Chris Smalling. However, this should not excuse a performance that has been in keeping with that of recent performances of late, where enough has been done to secure victory without looking particularly brilliant in one way or another, something which did not prove enough for the Champion’s League, and if United hope to compete into the latter stages of the competition this year, a resurgence will be necessary, particularly with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid and others looking extremely strong.


13 responses to “Five Things We Learned – United vs. Benfica”

  1. williamt says:

    Young was a non factor, in fact, he played poorly. Many wasted passes and was weak when given opportunties to score.
    Hernandez should have come in at 60 minutes his late arrival was harmful. Evra has lost a step and probably needs replacement sooner rather than later.
    Carrick and Fletcher in the middle were industrious but except for 2 or 3 periods failed to fully control the middle. Cleaverly
    has been sorely missed!
    A disappointing performance and result.

  2. 68Devils says:

    When VDS use to kick it into the stands i always wondered why;now i know.

  3. sh_V says:

    Team looked better with our Rooney 🙂

  4. Ez says:

    I think we REALLY played very very well tonight. Carrick was also very good. Just unlucky not to get the 3 points, but with such performance we are now looking for good wins.

  5. John Tring says:

    Man Utd is a 1-man team. No Rooney, no class. Also, sadly it’s now obvious SAF is at the end of a long, glorious road. Why he didn’t leave last summer to be in peace and glory? Must drag his (and our ) beloved Utd thru’ mud? Even if Utd do squeeze thru’ to next round, it’ll be a humiliation in the hands or feet of say Barca, Madrid, Munich or Milan…SAF’s purchases are bizarre ( buying another light-weight winger instead of a Midfielder), playing 3 wingers in a must-win match? Sorry folks, time and tide waits for none.

    • Zayd Jawad says:

      You call competing for honours dragging through the mud? Yes some decisions haven’t been great in retrospect but such mistakes have been made throughout his career not just, and frankly with such success who are we to question it?

    • tithe farm CANTONA says:

      fergie dragging us through mud???!!! Bell-end!

    • tithe farm CANTONA says:

      fergie dragging us through mud???!! Bell-end!!

  6. 68Devils says:

    Even if we end up not winning anything this season or the next SAF should only quit when he wants to quit.He has earned that right.

  7. McGrath says:

    Benfica are a decent team, they defended well and deserve to go through. If Berba or Fabio had taken their chances we would all be happy. Two mistakes from 19 year olds cost us, but most of us wanted to get some youngsters in the side so we can’t complain now.

    I think we look a much better side with Carrick, and Fletcher is improving game by game fitness wise. It was good to see him getting in the box for the goal he scored.

  8. detoy117 says:

    @John Tring I’m sorry i don’t know how bitter u are about the team in general and the result in particular… but when u buy a player with millions of pounds (carrick,flecther&anderson) u just don’t trow them away u give them chances and hope they perform… they were best @ dir various previous teams that’s what takes them to utd… what gives you the asurance modric or sniper will perform better or at all…. anderson wsa said to be the best player of his age… carrick has the potentials to be world best mid-fder… nani plays exactly like ronaldo… tosic a set piece specialist… berbatov the missing link…. obertan touches of henry(14)….. bebe the new cole….. etc That a player plays well in his team says not he will perform in utd…. pls get that right and be patient with what you have and watch the best (SAF) @ what he does well and learn from the very best….. it’s getting bulky…. UNITED I STAND & MY BLOOD IS RED

  9. Thomas says:

    This just confirmed all these niggling issues that people questioned during the summer (i.e. not signing a midfielder) are still true and a problem.

    The defence was really sloppy though I feel a bit unfortunate – Phil Jones getting switched around a lot, which for a young player who’s new to the Champions League too is going to be expose. I do think there are still communication issues with De Gea when you watch some of the calamities – Fabio too seems too weak at the back or exposed from running forward. I’m hoping with time these will mend.

    The midfield said it all I think, I love Fletcher and think it’s hard to judge him after him being out for such a period after hitting his peak (still think he’s been suffering since that red card in the Arsenal champions league semi at Emirates, add in the viruses he’s had and it can’t help). I think one key issue with him and Carrick are (this more so about Carrick) is they’re decent but not world class. I’d say for Fletcher it’s more his physique – like when we played City at Old Trafford, it was like boys vs men with the size and strength of some the City players. But excuses get us nowhere, we’ve had this midfield for long enough for them to prove more to us now. Cleverly looks good but he’s young and so far been injury prone – I wouldn’t want to ruin his career by overplaying him now.

    Nani I’ve always thought of as a good Ryan Babel – when he’s on form he can be incredible; when not, he can be useless. I’m not denying he made some good runs, great turns but it’s always the end piece that ruins it – a crap pass or clearly thinks he wants a shot when there’s too many players in front of him so he dribbles around and by that time they’ve managed to regroup and get players back.

    Ashley Young had a pretty crap game though he’s still new and fresh to the Champions League too, I have faith in him to grow. Berbatov, as much as I try stay behind him – he makes it stressful, that volley towards the end he should have put away being a finisher. Getting played in and out though isn’t going to help any player settle, I think he needs more games.

  10. RedScot says:

    1.Vidic…..Spot on.
    3.Patience is a virtue and ‘will’heap reward.
    5.Hear hear.Bang on.
    Jesus smiled,Basle thought what’s happening at Fawlty Towers.
    1.A defensive World class midfielder is a must to protect United’s back four.Repeatdly exposed albiet bye extremely skilled players.Micheal Carrick displayed to me that he is recovering his confidence and has the undoubted capability to be a silky composed football player we know he has in his locker.I thought last night again he was excellent, in distribution, breaking up play and generally seeing the picture in front of him.
    2.Phil Jones is a youngster and therefore prone to errors and learning his trade.Like all youngster at ‘all’ clubs and any
    He has been brushed with the quality stick-big time a natural.A Nemanja Vidic he is not a battle hardened ,Champions league/Internationl stage, proven contestant, that did not mature in 19 years.Phil will learn from adversity and defeat as all serious professionals will endevour to do.
    3.The loss of years of experience in the shape of Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Wes Brown and John O’shea- must have a debilitating negative effect on the dressing room and the training field.The loss is possibly beginning to show, in more ways than simply on field sticky performances.The youth are great, and what United are about, the future.You dont win anything with you?.Unless your Manchester United!.
    4.Error’s in my opinion have been made in the midfield as we all know.Hindsight is a fantastic atribute the manager simply does not have that ‘crystal ball’.I dont have crystal balls neither.I can point out in my opinion two mistakes that were meant to be the future engine room at United for several years have not bore fruit and matarialised.Owen Hargreaves and Anderson both have and had a serious question mark over their heads in my humble view.
    Serious investment is required at the football club.For an institution with a mammoth turnover in financial terms.I beg and repeat this old chestnut, why is the fans capital(players) not being displayed on the football pitch.
    A club of United’s size should not fear anyteam, be that Barcelona, Real Mardid or Bayern Munich.
    I seriously do not think that is the case and this point in time with United.Its a crying shame.
    6.Where have all the loud screaming passionate Old Trafford faithfull gone?.The Benifica supporters gave as good as they got last night, and more.I thought the support was the 12th man.
    The Prawn Sarnie brigade and politically correct mob, that the money machine Glazer tip their hats to are the preference.Be carefull what you wish for and the ‘bite you in the backside’scenario.
    7.Wayne Rooney is vital to United, almost one goal every second game.The flexibilty to apply his football skill to whatever position the ‘greatest ever’ manager of a Premiership club has asked of him, is a talent indeed.
    Surely the boss cannot be wrong in his assessment, question that. you question the whole fabric of United.Glazer aside.
    8.All is not lost, if you look on the ‘bright side of life’.
    (a)Benfica had not been beaten to date this season.
    (b)Otelul Galati, had equal attempts on goal, 4 more corners and 6% more possession than Basel last evening.
    (c)Lets watch City and see how they recover from a morale sapping loss.With a series of tricky fixtures in the immediate future.As they are the ‘leaders’**cough**,the opposition will up their game, as we know they do with United.
    9.As far as I am aware its always a roller coaster with Manchester United, highs and lows, peaks and trough’s.This is United-95% its the former.
    10.Some of us have work to do and ‘cannot’ blog every minute of the day-and night about United.
    Day dream we may well do,and the occasional although albeit infrequent nightmare.Unless yer blootered on fancy wine or some high-octance alchol.
    Keep it United.
    Cmon you Reds.