Manchester United will be looking to cement top spot in Group C, as they welcome Benfica to Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
A win against the Portuguese outfit would see United move three clear at the summit, meaning they would only need a point from their trip to Basel in December, to ensure top spot.
However, the Red Devils will have their work cut out to see off their opponents, and if the previous fixture is anything to go by, then Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be in for a tricky evening.
Man United were made to work hard to earn share of the spoils at the Estadio Da Luz, and found themselves trailing after 24 minutes. Oscar Cardozo put the hosts ahead with a superb finish, after Nicolas Gaitan had expertly picked him out. But United responded through the evergreen Ryan Giggs, who drilled a rising shot into the top corner, meaning the Reds left Portugal with a respectable 1-1 draw.
United go into the game on the back of Saturday’s battling success at Swansea, where Javier Hernandez portrayed his striking instincts, scoring the only goal of the game. Encouragingly, the Reds kept a fifth successive clean sheet, going some way to banish the demons of the six conceded against the blue half of Manchester.
Benfica arrive on English soil sitting at the top of the Portuguese league, and remain unbeaten so far this season in all competitions. Although they could only manage a draw away at 5th placed Braga in the league last time out.
Both sides have 8 points thus far in the Champions League, with identical results; wins against Otelul Galati home and away and a home draw to Basel, setting up an intriguing encounter.
Team Selection Thoughts
Sir Alex Ferguson is guaranteed to shuffle the pack, bearing in mind games come thick and fast at this time of year, although he will be wary of the threat Benfica pose.
Anders Lindegaard may be handed another Champions League start, despite the fact that David De Gea has been much improved in recent weeks. This rotation policy between the sticks has worked well so far and when Lindegaard has filled in for De Gea he has looked dependable.
Changes are certain in the back four, most notably because of Nemanja Vidic’s suspension, after he was sent off away at Otelul Galati. Phil Jones is likely to move across to centre half alongside Rio Ferdinand, meaning the right back spot is up for grabs. Rafael or Fabio could fill in here and Patrice Evra should start at left back, although it remains to be seen whether he is fully fit, after coming off early in the second half against Swansea.
The midfield selection is key for Ferguson as he must find the right balance between, pace, energy and work ethic. Darren Fletcher was limited to a place on the bench on Saturday, probably with this game in mind, so he should start in the centre. Anderson sat out training on Monday morning, and considering Michael Carrick’s imperious display against Swansea, Sir Alex may opt to play the Englishman. Ryan Giggs was handed a rare start on Saturday and it is improbable that he will feature from the off on Tuesday night, but the same can’t be said for Ji Sung Park, who can be relied upon to put in a good performance, whenever he is on the pitch.
On the wing, Antonio Valencia should be handed a starting berth, as he continues to return to full fitness. The lively Ecuadorian injected some much needed life into United when he stepped off the bench on Saturday, and his pace should cause Benfica some problems.
On the other side, Nani could make way for Ashley Young, now that the ex Aston Villa player has sufficiently recovered from a toe injury, sustained during the Manchester derby.
Young started the season excellently, helping to set up key wins against West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal, as well as playing a key role in United’s 3-1 success at home to Chelsea. However, his influence had waned to a certain extent, leading up to the derby, and he will be determined to recapture his early season form.
In the striking department, Dimitar Berbatov may be handed a start, and the silky Bulgarian will have to impress if he is to force his way into the side on a regular basis. Owen and Welbeck are still out, and Rooney suffered a couple of knocks on Saturday and may have to settle for a place on the bench. If this is the case, then Hernandez will once again lead the line, looking to add to his tally of five this season.
Three Key Battles
Oscar Cardozo vs. Phil Jones
The impressive Jones will have to be at the top of his game to thwart Cardozo. The Paraguayan, has already shown United what he is capable of this season, and if the Reds let him have a sight of goal on his left foot they could be in trouble. If Jones can marshal him successfully, then United concentrate on scoring goals rather than conceding them.
Darren Fletcher vs. Pablo Aimar
The Scot will have to keep tabs on the diminutive Argentine in order to stop Benfica from playing. The playmaker is not the force he once was, but can still cause damage if allowed space and time on the ball. If United can win the midfield battle, then they can get the ball wide and dictate the game.
Antonio Valencia vs. Full Backs
Valencia has been trying to regain full fitness for some time now and after good displays against Aldershot and Otelul, he is trying to force his way back into the starting eleven. If United can get the ball to him in space then the pacy winger can really get at the full backs. His early delivery could hurt Benfica, especially with Hernandez’s movement and Berbatov’s guile.
It promises to be an entertaining encounter, with both sides looking to get the ball down and play. Home advantage will certainly be a key factor for United, taking into consideration the fact that Benfica aren’t the same force away from the Estadio De Luz.
Bearing that in mind, I think Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s men will have enough about them to secure an important victory, although it is imperative that the Reds score first.
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