Qualification for the knockout stages was the prime agenda item tonight but it didn`t turn out that way as the honours were shared in a four goal thriller.
Team News – As is the norm for Champions League nights, Sir Alex Ferguson shuffled his pack. In came Berbatov for a rare start with Rooney being rested having collected a couple of minor knocks.
In defence it was a similar story with Vidic missing out and Jones partnering Ferdinand with Fabio coming in at right back. Valencia was also given a start and Young returned from an injury lay-off.
On the bench were two others coming back from injury in the shape of Rafael and Smalling.
Talking about Rooney`s absence before kick-off Sir Alex Ferguson had this to say,
‘Wayne Rooney got a knock on his hip on Saturday, it was quite painful and he didn’t have enough time to recover.”
United – De Gea, Fabio, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Young, Berbatov
Subs – Lindegaard, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Hernandez, Rafael, Gibson
First Half – United got the action underway but things didn`t go according to plan with Benfica taking an early lead Guitan slipped his marker and his ball into the box was turned into his own net by Phil Jones.
United 0 Benfica 1 (Jones og – 03 minutes)
The goal should have sparked United into life but Benfica were doing a good job of frustrating the home side. United sprung to life courtesy of Nani who beat three defenders before being fouled only to hit the resulting free kick straight at the Benfica keeper.
United continued to try and get back into the game and a ball from Evra found Young but his shot was well saved by the Benfica keeper, Artur. Thankfully, United`s pressure paid off on the half hour mark when Berbatov jumped to head home a cross from Nani.
United 1 Benfica 1 (Berbatov – 30 minutes)
The equaliser seemed to kick start the game. United could have taken the lead but Young, when one-on-one with the keeper, saw Artur save and down at the other end De Gea had to be alert to save from Pablo Aimar.
Berbatov almost snatched a second but saw his shot blocked by Garay but it was all-square at half time.
Half Time – United 1 Benfica 1
Second Half – Benfica got the action started but it was United that carved out the first half chance. Nani, from near the corner flag, supplied a ball in for Young but his shot was wayward and well wide.
United continued to apply the pressure and Young, from a Nani cutback, saw his shot blocked with, moments later, Artur denying Fabio who burst through and tried to chip the keeper.
The pressure paid off when United took the lead for the first time on the night. Fletcher was the scorer, netting at the second time of asking after Evra had provided the perfect ball into the box.
United 2 Benfica 1 (Fletcher – 59 minutes)
But the lead was short lived with Benfica getting back onto level terms almost instantly through Pablo Aimar. The goal was a poor one to concede with Jones playing the ball back to De Gea. The Spaniards clearance wasn`t good and when the ball fell to Bruno Cesar his cross, despite valiant attempts from Ferdinand, Aimar scored from close range.
United 2 Benfica 2 (Aimar – 60 minutes)
Following the equaliser, United looked to be losing their way but, strangely, Benfica didn`t look capable of capitalizing on it.
Berbatov, presented with a great chance from a Fabio cross, blazed over from ten yards out. Carrick picked up a yellow card that subsequently ruled him out of the clash with FC Basel.
Javier Hernandez came on to try and force that winner but that honour almost fell to Rodrigo who went on a lung-busting run only to hit the side-netting with his shot.
Three minutes of stoppage time were announced but it wasn`t to be and the honours were shared.
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