Image: Soccer Football – Champions League – Manchester United vs S.L. Benfica – Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – October 31, 2017 Manchester United’s Daley Blind celebrates with Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly after scoring their second goal from the penalty spot REUTERS/Darren Staples
By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester United are almost certain to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League after they beat Benfica 2-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday to make it a perfect four wins in Group A.
An own goal by Benfica’s 18-year-old keeper Mile Svilar on the stroke of halftime and a Daley Blind penalty in the 78th minute were enough for United, who struggled at times to find their fluency.
Jose Mourinho’s team now need just a point from their final two games in the group, against Basel and CSKA Moscow, to make absolutely certain of their place in the knockout stage for the first time in four years.
The result moved them six points clear at the top of the group, yet United, who qualified by winning the Europa League last season, were well below their best, labouring in midfield and sloppy at times at the back.
After the visitors started brightly, United could have taken the lead in the 14th minute when Anthony Martial went down under a challenge from Douglas but the Frenchman’s soft spot kick was saved by Svilar.
At the other end, David De Gea, was forced into the first of a series of saves – superbly reaching a powerful drive from Diogo Goncalves.
Romelu Lukaku then had two chances for United with Svilar pushing his low, left-foot shot wide in the 30th minute, before the Belgian headed over from a Martial cross.
When the goal came, just before halftime, it had a strong element of good fortune to it.
Svilar, the youngest keeper in Champions League history whose error had gifted United a 1-0 win when the teams met two weeks ago in Lisbon, could do nothing as a Nemanja Matic shot struck the post and bounced into the goal off his back.
Benfica had several good chances to draw level but United keeper De Gea was his usual reliable self.
The one time the Spaniard was beaten, Mexican forward Raul Jimenez’s shot struck the outside of the post after he had intercepted a loose pass from Eric Bailly to Chris Smalling.
The introduction of Marcus Rashford for Martial injected some life into United’s attack and it was the 19-year-old who created the second goal.
The winger burst into the area, skipping by two defenders before he was brought down by Andreas Samaris.
Lukaku looked set to take the kick, but after an apparent intervention from Mourinho, it was Blind who converted.
The result leaves United top of Group A on 12 points while CSKA Moscow and Basel each have six points with Benfica still without a point.
CSKA won 2-1 at Basel in Tuesday’s other game in the group.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)
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