Victory at the weekend away at Swansea sets us up nicely for the penultimate game in the group stage, against a team who hold a place in the heart of our history in this competition. Benfica were our opponents in 1968 at Wembley, when Matt Busby guided United to their first ever European Cup final.
The Portugese champions included the great Eusebio in their side and history tells you that, despite the game ending 1-1 after 90 minutes, United – in their all blue strip – ran out 4-1 winners in extra-time. Tuesday’s game is the most important meeting between the two sides since that night 43 years ago, with Benfica guaranteed to qualify if they win, and United on the verge of qualification to the knockout stages if they take all three points.
Wayne Rooney has reportedly missed training with “a couple of knocks” but is still likely to start against Benfica. Jonny Evans should also be available for selection despite hamstring problems, but Chris Smalling is ruled out, as is Danny Welbeck. Tom Cleverly will be out until Christmas, and Michael Owen is unavailable for six weeks, but Sir Alex should have a decent bunch to pick from.
Nemanja Vidic also completes a two game Champions League suspension.
United’s team from: De Gea, Lindegaard, Rafael, Fabio, Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Fryers, Nani, Valencia, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher, Morrison, Park, Giggs, Young, Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov, Macheda, Diouf.
Benfica are unbeaten on their European travels this term, having earned two draws in the qualifying rounds, followed by victories at Oţelul Galaţi and Basel in Group C. They last won three successive away games in the European Cup in 1989/90 – the season of their most recent final appearance – so they’ll be looking to equal that 21 year old record on Tuesday night.
They come to England with a few injuries in their locker: Javier Saviola missed the last match for Benfica – an away win against Naval – with a left knee injury. Nemanja Matić has been absent since matchday four because of a right thigh injury, although Javi García made his comeback from a dead leg against Braga, having sat out Benfica’s previous two games. Enzo Peréz wont feature for the Portugese side, he’s out for three months after undergoing surgery on his right knee in September.
Did you know…?
This term, United have committed 33 fouls in the Champions League, fewer than any other side in the group stage.
If Michael Carrick picks up a booking in this one, he’ll face a one match suspension.
Benfica’s Nicolás Gaitán has provided four assists to date, the highest total in this seasons competition.
Rodrigo recorded his second hat-trick of the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying campaign on 10 November as Spain beat Estonia 6-0 in Melilla.
34 year old Cüneyt Çakır from Turkey takes charge of the game on Tuesday. An insurance broker from Istanbul, Çakir made his refereeing debut in the UEFA Cup proper in 2008/09, taking charge of two games including the group stage fixture between FC Twente and FC Schalke 04 in December 2008.
A well thought of, and up and coming referee, he’s officiated over 100 games in the Turkish Super Lig, and Tuesday will be his sixth UEFA Champions League game.
So, for United it’s potentially the toughest game of the Champions League so far, with Benfica pressing for victory to earn them a place in the knockout phase. However, Portugese teams haven’t beaten United in England in ten previous attempts. Omens favour United, and if a vocal, passionate crowd can find their voice on Tuesday night, it could make the a big difference toward victory.
Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.
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