Manchester United are within touching distance of a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League after seeing off Benfica at Old Trafford.
An own goal from luckless keeper Mile Svilar, who could only watch helplessly as a Nemanja Matic shot rebounded off him and into the net after hitting the post, set United on their way before Daley Blind sealed the win from the spot.
Anthony Martial had earlier seen his penalty saved by young Svilar. Jose Mourinho’s troops have won all four of their Group A matches and need only one point from their final two fixtures to ensure their name will be in the hat for the last 16 draw.
Here are three talking points from a comfortable evening for the Red Devils…
Workmanlike Manchester United not hitting the heights
Not for the first time Mourinho had caused a stir, this time with comments in the match-day programme that were construed as a criticism of the club’s supporters. The Portuguese wrote that he hoped they would enjoy the game against Benfica ‘more than some of you did against Tottenham‘ three days earlier, which United won 1-0.
The Red Devils’ results have been impressive this season, but they have not matched the scintillating football played by their Manchester rivals. That is bound to be a cause of some frustration. Mourinho is renowned as a pragmatist and his distinguished managerial record cannot be questioned. United are all-but assured of progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but it’s clear the supporters would like to see a more attractive brand of football.
Marcus Rashford has cause for celebration on his birthday
It was fitting that, on his 20th birthday, Marcus Rashford had something to celebrate. Just three minutes after being introduced as a 75th-minute substitute, with the game well poised, he was in the thick of the action. A dazzling run saw him bypass two Benfica defenders, before his quick feet invited a challenge that earned United a penalty.
After some confusion as to who would take it, Blind stepped up and scored, but it was all a product of Rashford’s energetic arrival. The England man has a habit of making things happen. He certainly awoke the Old Trafford crowd, among whom he is a firm favourite. The youngster’s fearlessness is his greatest asset. Rashford is always willing to try something different and he is sure to be a star of the future for club and country.
A night to remember for Scott McTominay
United have a proud history of always naming at least one academy graduate in their match-day squad; indeed, it is a run that stretches all the way back to 1937. The latest talent to roll off the production line is midfielder Scott McTominay, who made his full Champions League debut against Benfica. The 20-year-old looked assured in the middle of the park alongside the ever-reliable Matic.
United’s smooth progress in the Champions League enabled Mourinho to rotate his squad, and McTominay will have benefited immensely from his 90 minutes. With Jesse Lingard and Rashford also in the 18 against Benfica, United’s fabled academy system looks to be in rude health.