Man United 2 Benfica 2: Lessons learned from a dramatic encounter
What did we learn from Manchester United's 2-2 Champions League draw against Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday?
Opponents don’t fear going to Old Trafford anymore
In past seasons, Manchester United would pick up a maximum nine points from their three group games at Old Trafford at a canter. But this term teams have attacked United and the Premier League champions have responded in an unconvincing fashion, having drawn 3-3 against Basel and now against Benfica. Their only home victory has come against point-less Otelal Galati. It’s not just the results that are worrying for Sir Alex Ferguson – the mentality of their opponents appears to have changed. Instead of sitting back, Benfica pressed United all over the pitch and attacked with purpose. Despite United missing some chances, Benfica were good value for their point and were rewarded for taking the game to the home side.
Manchester United need a class act in midfield
In Europe, possession is at a premium. When you get the ball, you need to keep it or you’ll be punished by the extra class the top teams have in the Champions League. United’s midfield is sorely missing a player that controls the game from the middle – and all their main rivals must feel they have an advantage in that area as displayed by Barcelona in the final last May. Darren Fletcher is commended for all his hard work and pops up with the odd goal but he is limited. Michael Carrick is adept in his own half but lacks creativity going forward, while Anderson has never fulfilled his promise. Tom Cleverley looks the most promising but he is unproven and currently injured. It is an area Ferguson must improve upon in the January transfer window.
Nemanja Vidic remains United’s key player
Ferguson has added depth to his defence in the last couple of seasons. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been bought as Rio Ferdinand edges towards retirement. Both have ably deputised for Ferdinand when needed and he is rarely missed, but no one can replace Vidic. Suspended on Tuesday, the Serb’s absence was noticeable. As Ferdinand’s influence diminishes, Vidic has become a central figure in the United defence with his bravery, determination and class all qualities that none of his understudies can replicate.
Dimitar Berbatov still has something to offer
Dimitar Berbatov has been biggest casualty since Ferguson re-shuffled his squad in the summer. Top scorer last season, the Bulgarian has dropped to fourth in the striking pecking order behind Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier HernÃ¡ndez. He got his chance against Benfica and showed his manager he has a lot to offer. He led the line well, his interplay was impressive and he scored a good header. His touch is still impeccable and he offers something different to the other forwards at the club. He faded as the game reached its conclusion but he showed he can still produce a strong performance – and could now feature more frequently this season.
Pablo Aimar sparkles for Benfica
Fans may remember Pablo Aimar from his Valencia days, when he was an integral part of the squad that won La Liga in 2004 and were runners up in the Champions League. Injuries took their toll on the Argentinean and he disappeared from the limelight – but Aimar showed some of the skills he was known for at Old Trafford on Tuesday. He took up positions in between the midfield and defence, causing havoc and he scored the visitor’s second goal. Now aged 32, Aimar was central to Benfica’s attacking play and he showed why he was capped 52 times by his country.