Manchester United are on the verge of reaching the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in four years after beating Benfica.
The Red Devils, who earned their place by winning last season’s Europa League, have claimed four victories from their four Group A games and need just a point from their remaining two games to progress.
“We have not qualified yet? Four victories and it is still not enough? We must get that point from the two remaining matches,” said manager Jose Mourinho.
“I am more than happy. We changed a lot of players, we broke the natural dynamic and routines of the team and we played a kid (Scott McTominay) from the academy.
“We scored two goals, did not concede, gained three more points, more money for the club because every victory means money and did not have any significant injuries.”
Anthony Martial, who provided a threat from the left with his trickery and pace, earned a penalty when he was tripped by Douglas, but the Frenchman had his spot-kick kept out by Mile Svilar.
Belgian goalkeeper Svilar also twice saved well from fellow countryman Romelu Lukaku, but a mistake on his debut in the competition in the previous game contributed to United’s narrow victory and he gave the hosts a helping hand again.
Ex-Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic’s powerful shot struck the foot of the post, but ricocheted off the unfortunate Svilar – who had dived to save the shot – and into the net. Full-back Daley Blind added a second from the penalty spot.
The Portuguese champions were much improved from the reverse game and offered more of an attacking threat, forcing David de Gea into two excellent saves in each half.
The home goalkeeper denied forward Diogo Goncalves’ curling effort towards the top corner and low shot across goal, while he also gathered Raul Jimenez’s long-range drive.
Mexican Jimenez intercepted Eric Bailly’s lazy cross-field pass deep inside his own half, but his shot cannoned off the post.
In the group’s other game, CSKA Moscow came from behind to beat Basel, leaving United six points clear but waiting to go through.
The Premier League side face a trip to Basel next month, followed by their final group game at home against CSKA in December as they look to go through to the round of 16 where they last played in under David Moyes in 2014 .
A tale of two keepers
The night was going quite well for Benfica and goalkeeper Svilar when he dived low to his right to palm away Martial’s penalty after 15 minutes to become the youngest goalkeeper to save a spot-kick in a Champions League match.
He also thwarted Lukaku by stretching to his near post and standing tall when the striker closed in one-on-one – the former Everton man has now extended his goalless run to six games in all competitions after netting 11 in his first 10 for the club.
Lukaku could have broken his barren run when he placed the ball on the spot for the second penalty, only to be overruled by Ander Herrera – but manager Jose Mourinho then instructed Blind to take the kick and he scored.
The Portuguese manager said: “Anthony Martial was the player to take penalties. He took it and missed, he was not on the pitch for the second one.
“The players were happy to take the responsibility, Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera, but my choice was Daley Blind. That is my decision.”
Svilar’s unlucky moment on 45 minutes means he also became the youngest player to score an own goal in the competition.
At the other end, Benfica could not find a way past Spaniard De Gea, who has now kept 11 clean sheets in 15 games this season.
United’s number one made a total of five saves in the match, the best of which came from Goncalves’ rising strike in the first half, springing high to his left to tip the ball to safety.
3,883 games and counting
United have now named an academy product in the first-team squad for 3,883 consecutive games – a run that stretches back to October 1937.
Mourinho gave a first start in the competition to Lancaster-born midfielder Scott McTominay, while Warrington’s Jesse Lingard also started and Manchester-born Marcus Rashford, on his 20th birthday, came off the bench to earn the second penalty.
McTominay, handed his opportunity following injuries to Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick, impressed in the middle of the park alongside Matic.
The 20-year-old made three tackles and three interceptions, while winning the ball back nine times – more than any other player on the pitch.
McTominay said afterwards: “As a young boy growing up, you dream of playing in the Champions League for Manchester United.
“All those years growing up in the academy, watching the first-team players, I am made up.”
Man of the match – Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
Matic said: “It was good to keep winning and a very important three points for us. Benfica played well tonight but we showed character. I hope the supporters enjoyed it.
“Benfica did not surprise me, they are a talented team and I knew they would come here to play good football. I was there two-and-a-half years and they do not deserve not to have any points.”
A big one. United travel to Mourinho’s former club Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday (kick-off 16:30 GMT).
Fortress Old Trafford – the stats
- Jose Mourinho has not lost in his 12 home games against sides he has previously managed, winning the last 11 in a row.
- The Red Devils are now unbeaten in 37 home games in all competitions (won 26, drawn 11) – only once in the Premier League era have they had a longer such run (38 between December 1998 and April 2000).
- The Red Devils have now kept 87 clean sheets in the Champions League – one more than Real Madrid and second only to Barcelona (91).
- This is the ninth time an English club has won their opening four Champions League group stage games (including second group stages), with Manchester United responsible for six of those.
- Daley Blind scored his first Champions League goal in his 24th appearance in the competition (14 with Ajax, 10 with Manchester United).