Manchester United secured a 2-0 win over Benfica at Old Trafford that ensured their qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Benfica were the better side on the night, and United were quite poor for large periods of the game.
However, Mile Svilar was once again the villain against the Red Devils, as his own-goal gave them the lead before Daley Blind sealed the three points with a penalty.
Here are 5 talking points from the encounter at Old Trafford.
5. The penalty conundrum
Do Manchester United even have a fixed penalty taker? In the final few years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s glittering career, Wayne Rooney was often given spot-kick duties, and that continued under David Moyes as well. Under Louis van Gaal, it was a score and miss system. There was an order of players who were to take penalties, and if the first on the list missed one, spot kick duties would be transferred to the second on the list until they missed and so on.
Under Mourinho though, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of system in place as to who takes penalties and when. In fact, most of United’s penalties have been taken by players selected by Mourinho on the spot. Anthony Martial has taken the last few – with a much needed confidence boost being seen as the reason. He missed his spot-kick tonight though, and it is unknown if he will be trusted with another one any time soon.
United won a second penalty when Marcus Rashford – Martial’s replacement – made a surging run and was brought down. However, the Englishman wasn’t given the ball. Romelu Lukaku picked up the ball and placed it on the penalty spot, before being told by Ander Herrera that he wasn’t going to take it. Mourinho then shouted rather surprising instructions to Herrera, telling him to give it to Daley Blind.
Lucky for Mourinho that Blind coolly slotted his shot down the middle for United’s second, otherwise there would have been some serious questions asked about the penalty conundrum.
4. Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku disappear yet again
What has gone wrong for the pair who are supposed to be key players for United? Mata is a magnificent player on his day, but he has been off the boil for quite some time now. He has struggled to get a place in the starting XI of late, and his previous start came in the 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield, where he was replaced at half-time after a shockingly dire display.
It was a similar performance tonight again, as he struggled to have any sort of influence on the game. He often ran back to the center circle just to get a touch of the ball. For a player who is supposed to be a playmaker that makes his team tick, it was a woeful performance and not even close to being good enough, especially considering the natural ability Mata has been gifted with.
Lukaku, on the other hand, has been invisible for weeks now. He put in a decent shift against Tottenham on Sunday, but has quite obviously been off his game recently. After a fast start to life at Old Trafford, things have suddenly and dramatically slowed down and the goals have dried up. He is struggling to have much of an impact in games either, with the supply to him being incredibly poor.
He missed two golden opportunities tonight, with just the goalkeeper to beat. Jose Mourinho has been protecting him all week, but even he didn’t trust the Belgian to take United’s second penalty of the game. If anything, Lukaku will be praying that Paul Pogba comes back as soon as possible and saves him from his current nightmare.
3. Svilar’s bad luck.
The sad part is, Mile Svilar was actually quite good on the night. A couple of fine saves here and there looked to have redeemed the 18-year-old of his nightmare in the reverse fixture in Portugal, when he carried Marcus Rashford’s free-kick into his goal.
However, just when things seemed to be going well for him, calamity struck yet again. Nemanja Matic unleashed a ferocious drive that ricocheted off the post and onto the back of Svilar, who could only watch as the ball rolled into the back of the net for the game’s opening goal.
The Belgian is still only a teenager, and has a whole career ahead of him. However, the fact that he was main cause for his team handing United 6 points and an early qualification while effectively knocking his side out of the competition will no doubt weigh heavily on his shoulders.
2. David de Gea’s magnificence
For all of Svilar’s struggles in goal for Benfica, he would have been in awe of the man on the other end of the field. Yet again, Manchester United were rescued by a piece of sheer superhuman ability from David de Gea. It is incredibly difficult to find a way past the Spaniard these days, as displayed by the fact that United are the only team in Europe’s five elite leagues to have not conceded a single goal in their first six home games of the season.
Diogo Gonçalves probably knew that had it been any other keeper, he would have had two goals tonight. Twice was he denied by the magnificent outstretched fingertips of the 26-year-old. In the first half, he unleashed a superb curling shot from outside the box that was destined from the top corner, but De Gea dived incredibly and palmed it away. In the second half, Gonçalves struck another shot from outside the box, this time towards the bottom corner, but yet again the Spaniard dived and managed to get fingertips to it and keep it out.
The best goalkeeper in the world.
1. United were poor on the ball yet again
Most of the last two weeks or so since the Liverpool game have been about how negative United’s style of football has been. However, what people have been missing is how poor United have been on the ball in a number of the games since the drab affair at Anfield.
Ever since Paul Pogba’s injury, Mourinho’s men have looked shockingly bad on the ball. Possession wise, United have struggled to hold on to the ball for large periods in games. Players have given up possession quite cheaply on a number of occasions recently, and have looked short of ideas and creativity when they do have the ball.
Sure, Pogba is a big miss, but it is a worrying sight that United are struggling to cope without him despite a wealth of options in the position. With Michael Carrick set to retire at the end of the season, Mourinho may look to move some players on and bring in new players to ease the burden on Pogba, and ensure that his side doesn’t rely too heavily on him being fit and on the pitch.
Benfica were by far the better side until Daley Blind scored the second goal of the match, and were constantly picking the ball off United as if it were child’s play. This will be very worrying for Mourinho, and improvements will have to be made before it is too late.
Manchester United fan, Wayne Rooney is his role model. Passionate writer who has written for several sites in the past. He’s also an aspiring pianist and creates background music for BlameFootball’s Youtube channel.