Having witnessed United’s exciting and incredible start to the season, it would take a brave man to bet against them continuing this fine form until the end of the season, securing yet another Premier League title.
However, with the Benfica game midweek showing signs of mortality within the red side of Manchester, it seems there may still be work to do to ensure that Champions League remains a very real possibility throughout the season.
Obviously there were changes, and plenty of them, with Park, Carrick and Fabio coming for some much needed mileage; however with these players ineffective against a solid Benfica backline, it seems that Manchester United must be urged to remain consistent with selection of tactics and players as the season progresses.
The positives to draw from the game are vast, including the exciting fight for the Number 1. Yellow jersey, as Lindegaard showed himself to be a proficient and vastly competent goalkeeper, encouraging David De Gea to ‘hurry up’ his settling in period. Ryan Giggs still showed his class with an excellent solo goal, and younger players of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones gained some valuable experience on the Champions League stage.
Antonio Valencia showed craft at times, troubling Benfica’s left back with mazy runs, and an end product of reasonable quality. However there appeared to be certain flaws within the United team, as domination from a good, yet ultimately weaker Portuguese side was not on the cards pre-match.
The first potential error in the Benfica game was the isolation of Rooney. With Berbatov surely one of the players without much game time this year, it would seem the tie was set up for him to show the fans, and the manager, what he can do once more. The strike duo, who were so prolific together just last year, could have found the formula to unlock a solid Luisao and Garay, who both have a wealth of experience and quality.
However Rooney leading the line on his own seemed flawed, as in his new, and arguably improved, role within the game of football involves dropping deep in order to feed and begin attacks, using the wingers and another, more advanced, centre forward to find goals. However against Benfica Rooney attempted a similar role, with little success, as Park and Valencia seemed unable to penetrate the Benfica defence at times, leaving Rooney a frustrated figure in the opponents half.