United really do love doing it the hard way as the Reds now need a point in their last Champions League Group C game against Basel if they are to ensure qualification for the knockout stages after an entertaining 2-2 draw with Benfica.
After Phil Jones’s third-minute own goal, United recovered with forgotten man Dimitar Berbatov heading in a delightful Nani cross. Darren Fletcher then ghosted in to prod past Artur to make it 2-1, but Pablo Aimar equalised from close range.
Berbatov and Rodrigo both had late chances to win it but were off target. The Bulgarian will rue the missed opportunity as he looked to remind his manager of his qualities after only starting four games all season.
However, despite finding the net it wasn’t Berbatov who caught the eye on the night. Portugeezer Nani is our Man of the Match as the ex-Sporting winger tried, and succeeded, to impress against his old Portuguese rivals.
Nani said before the game that the match would be won and lost in midfield, turns out it was a draw but he did have a point. United went for Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher in the middle while Nani and Antonio Valencia played out wide with Ashley Young in behind Berbatov. This attack-minded midfield was to the home side’s detriment as Benfica exploited the gap between midfield and defence with two tricky Argentines; veteran Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan. The pair combined well and would switch positions troubling Carrick at times.
But Nani gave them a dose of their own medicine with signature runs, skipping past opponents with ease with Benfica often resorting to fouls to stop the inspired winger. Nani is one to blow hot and cold on nights like tonight and he was red hot on this occasion as he retained possession, remained calm and composed on the ball and provided that spark of energy and creativity that was lacking from the side due to the absence of Wayne Rooney.
This was highlighted when Nani beat Emerson to cross for Berbatov’s equaliser after half an hour. He single-handedly lifted the mood of the crowd with his inspired footwork and continued to threaten throughout the evening as United pressed for a second goal. He could’ve done better with a couple of free kicks which hit off the wall and were caught by the keeper comfortably but his overall display was one of maturity and consistency.
The second half was just as exciting and began with Young’s side-foot shot being blocked at close range following some fine work by Nani.
He summed the game up well when speaking to MUTV, he said: “We played some fantastic football and created a lot of chances to score goals and eventually wasted a lot. We let them create a chance to make it 2-2 and they took it. That was a big problem for us.”
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