For all the abuse heaped on Carlos Quieroz by United fans, and for all the criticism sent Fergie’s way before (and especially after today’s match), you have to credit the pair with one good move in the summer:
Keeping Ronaldo at Manchester United.
This kid is not only in the form of his life, but in a United team hit by injury to Giggs and Saha and plagued by the lack of form of Rooney, Scholes and Carrick, Ronaldo is the ONLY attacking threat available to us.
To top it off, he’s carried the responsibility admirably, boos and negative reputation and all that. In that respect, he’s certainly more valuable than Ruud van Nistelrooy in providing us with a creative thrust, even if the Dutch master is a goal machine that we will miss dearly.
Manchester United looked little better than schoolboys for most of the game, with short, nervous passing in their own half couple with an alarmingly frequent tendency to concede possession by either directly playing in a Benfica player or completely mishitting a pass. Rooney on the left flank was the biggest culprit, and to go through an entire 70-80 minutes playing like this (even if he did some decent mopping up when covering for Heinze at left-back)
There were two parts to the game – a brief 10 seconds in which Scholes, Ronaldo and Saha combined on the counter-attack to give Manchester United the lead, and the rest of 92 minutes and 50 seconds, in which Manchester United defended deep but struggled to string together more than a handful of passes, let alone pose any threat to the Benfica goal.
This was a one-man show, and for a second night in a row 21-year old Cristiano Ronaldo stole the limelight with a commanding solo performance for United. He’s not only the best winger in the Premiership currently but perhaps the most influential player as well, considering the impact and control he has over his team’s attacking forays. Well done Ronaldo.
Here’s the goal vid – trust me, this is the only part of the match that you’ll enjoy.
Benfica 0-1 Manchester United – Saha scores
Match: Benfica vs Manchester United (Group F) (Matchday 2)
Stadium: Estadio da Luz (Stadium of Light)
Date: Tuesday, 26 September, 2006
Kick-off: 1945 BST, 2345 PST
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (BEL)
All focus is on the repeat of the clash that saw Benfica beat Manchester United 2-1 and go through to the knock-out stages of last year’s Champions League. The emotional hoodoo surrounding the game will undoubtedly have an effect on both sides and it promises to be a very physical, bruising encounter.
Manchester United News
Ferguson has already said that it will be a “different bloody result“, and United are determined to come out with all guns blazing. The trouble is that in Ryan Giggs they have one of their most creative talents absent and in his place they will need Rooney and Scholes to click into form once again. Ronaldo has already been in decent form this season, while this game will be an important test for Saha’s claims as a genuine CL-club frontline striker.
Park Ji-Sung, Giggs and Silvestre are still out with injury. Heinze and Vidic came through the Saturday game against Reading without any ill effects and could start against Benfica. Saha should be back in the starting lineup as well, which would mean that Ronaldo goes back to the wings and one of Richardson and Fletcher could be dropped to the bench.
van der Sar
Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze
Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick, Ronaldo
Kuszczak, Evra, Brown, O’Shea, Richardson, Solskjaer
Benfica’s preparations are centered on replacing the injured Rui Costa in midfield and finding a way to score a goal (after the team went goalless against minnows FC Copenhagen). The onus to score for Benfica will be on the Portuguese Nuno Gomes and Mexican Fonseca (a powerhouse of a forward), and the United defence are in for a torrid time if the Benfica midfield can get their act together and supply the forward line.
Manchester United are in better shape than they were last year, while Benfica lie 11th in the domestic league and have 1 win from three outings. Whether they can spring an Arsenal-like surprise on United remains to be seen, but expect Benfica to try to control the game, slow the pace down and get United on the counter.
And what about us? We ‘should’ be playing our brand of fast, flowing football, but something tells me this is going to be one of those scrappy, low-scoring affairs – although both sides look capable of conceding goals, so maybe there’s more to it than just a 1-0 win for Manchester United.
Manchester United to win, 1-0. A red card in the game as well. Rio Ferdinand will be immense, and Ronaldo will have his best game of the season so far.
So sayeth the Soccerlens Oracle.
Download the official UEFA Champions League Press Kit (right-click, select ‘Save As’) for the Benfica vs Manchester United game. Full of stats and historical tidbits.
Donald McRae’s interview with Benfica and Portuguese legend Eusebio (Guardian).