This Wednesday, Manchester United faced Portugal’s SL Benfica in a Group Stage match of the UEFA Champions League.
Although United is leading Group A with three wins and zero losses, they are currently down some of their best players, namely Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Marouane Fellaini, and Michael Carrick. All are out with injury, posing a major detriment to United as it maneuvers through the UEFA matches.
Despite the absences of these major starters, Manchester United managed to scrape a vital win against Benfica, winning 1-0. Forward Marcus Rashford bent the ball into the goal off a free kick at 65 minutes, at the unfortunate mistake of Benfica’s young goalkeeper, Mile Svilar, who was unable to shift his momentum after catching the ball.
Overall, the game was not particularly spectacular and played at a rather tame pace, leaving many spectators unsatisfied with the pedestrian play. To put things in perspective, there was a total of one shot taken on target over the entire first half. Nemanja Matic, a United midfielder, mustered some effort to sally the shot, but Svilar halted this rare incursion with ease.
The second half was quite the same, up until the 65th minute, when Rashford decided to shoot for goal on his free kick. The goal itself was an error of play. Belgian Mile Svilar, the youngest goalkeeper to ever start in the Champions League, at eighteen years old, misjudged his momentum and accidentally carried the ball over the line. If he had only tapped the ball over the crossbar, Benfica would have been safe.
The end of the game received the most recognition from fans and the media. Svilar was visibly in tears after his costly mistake, but the Manchester players, most notably Romelu Lukaku and David De Gea, approached Svilar to console him and offer some words of encouragement. Lukaku, a fellow Belgian who was Svilar’s teammate back in Anderlecht, embraced Svilar, reminding him to “continue to work and it will be okay,” and telling him that he does not have to worry. De Gea was similarly seen approaching the young goalkeeper, and manager Jose Mourinho publicly lauded Svilar’s talents.
Top sportsmanship from @RomeluLukaku9 ?
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 19, 2017
Despite the slow nature of the United-Benfica game, it speaks volumes to Jose Mourinho’s performance this season. Firstly, Manchester United now holds a perfect nine points in their group in the Champions League. Furthermore, only in Mourinho’s first season with United, which began in summer 2016, he has been able to secure two major trophies, the EFL Cup and the Europa League, the latter which helped the team return to the Champions League. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, could guide United only to fifth place.
Mourinho’s work in his first season was tremendous, and he is beginning his second just as strong. Currently, Manchester United is second in the English Premier League, behind Manchester City by only two points, and thus far they have a perfect season in the 2017/2018 EFL Cup, where they will face Swansea City next Tuesday in the Round of 16.
Although Manchester United is depleted of several of its best starters, hopefully manager Jose Mourinho can bring the Red Devils closer to another trophy as he steers them through the rest of this season.