1. Pragmatic United almost backfired, can’t have that in Europe. SAF rounded the changes last night and it couldn’t have been more obvious that we had a team in which 6 players were making their first start of the season, with the fluidity that United have shown domestically replaced by a pragmatic and, at times, very poor display from the “Old Guard”. The result tonight will be completely vindicated should United come out on top against Chelsea on Sunday and although we could of walked away with 3 points tonight had we played a stronger side, SAF used the game to give players match time and seeing as we still have 5 games left, we should comfortably qualify from the group as long as we maintain our fantastic home form, which I have every confidence that we will.
2. Lindegaard did himself no harm. Journalists were creaming themselves at the opportunity to raise questions about De Gea being dropped to the bench (Miss. Dalglish found that out hard way) but Lindegaard had a wonderfully composed debut in Champions League and if it wasn’t for a string of good saves from him, then United would have come from Lisbon without any points. He showed great agility and focus in stopping shots from the Benfica strike-force and can surely not be held to blame for what was a fantastic goal from Oscar Cardozo, who unleashed a fearsome strike into the side of the net. Although, it has to be said that Lindegaard was clearly nervous on the night as his distribution was lacking to say the least: he seem panicked when he had the ball and chose to spank it forward on numerous occasions rather than instigating a passing move from the back. Despite this, I feel Lindegaard was United’s Man of the Match last night, so well done to the young Dane.
3. Carrick was poor. With Tom Cleverley out for a month and Darren Fletcher far from match fit, Michael Carrick will step back into the United line-up and quite probably partner Anderson in the weeks to come. When Michael came on against Bolton after Davies inexplicably lunged in on Cleverley, he seemed to be playing in the style of Tom and brought fluidity to the team that his normally backwards game doesn’t include. Last night against Benfica was completely different. Carrick was playing his normal pass-it-sideways-or-backwards game and although he attempted and completed the most expansive passes in the United team (12 out of 14), he was very poor overall. Many a time he gave the ball away and forced pressure onto United and his normally fantastic ability to intercept the ball deserted him on the night. Anderson was left out as SAF went for a 3 man midfield and it just didn’t bring the best out of any of our midfielders and when Chelsea come on Sunday, we will need to continue our vibrant and fluid start to the season and avoid a repeat of last night.
4. Rooney couldn’t do anything. Wayne Rooney cut a frustrated figure last night in United’s 4-5-1 formation that gave him no chances to impress with his incredible start to the season. Last night, I thought Rooney made more contributions to United’s defence than he did with United’s attack because he kept tracking back and dropping deeper in order to try and influence the game more. Not having a strike partner did him no favours because he savours playing in the number 10 role but found himself as the target man last night, having to stay further up the pitch and leave it up to his team-mates. The service was minimal and Rooney had no opportunities to even get a shot away last night but the game plan was clearly aimed at thwarting the creativity of Benfica rather than expanding on the assets of United’s attack. I expect last night to make Rooney even more up for getting at Chelsea on Sunday and there is no striker more feared in the Premier League right now than Wayne, so bring on the Rentboys.
5. Welcome back Fletcher and Valencia. It has been a hell of a long time since we have seen Darren Fletcher running around and biting at the heels of the opposition but it was fantastic to see him start last night. Although it is clearly obvious that he is far from match fit, just getting 60 minutes of away European football under his belt will have done wonders for his individual confidence and mental strength ahead of the season. Tom Cleverley’s injury means he will get more game time than he would of expected and I am full of desperate hope that he will re-light his fire and find the sort of form that made him indispensable in the 2007/8 double winning team. Antonio Valencia also returned from injury last night and just like he did after returning from his horrific ankle break, he came out of the blocks firing. He seems to hold his fitness extremely well and he caused Benfica a lot of problems last night down the right hand side, doing what he does best and holding tight to the wing before whipping in some great crosses. SAF always loves a good old selection dilemma and a return to fitness will no doubt contribute to that and with midweek fixtures coming up against Leeds in the Carling Cup as well as FC Basel in 2 weeks, expect to see Tony get some considerable game time under the belt. If the United squad looked strong before the return of these 2, it looks eve stronger now.