Benfica v Manchester United talking points

17 October 2017 06:32

Manchester United will look to continue their winning start to the Champions League at Benfica on Wednesday.

Ahead of the Group A encounter, we pick out five talking points.

Can United strengthen their stranglehold?

After going without Champions League football last season, May’s Europa League triumph in Stockholm brought around a timely return to European football’s top table. Things could scarcely have got off to a better start in Group A, with a 3-0 opening-day win at home to Basel followed by a 4-1 triumph at CSKA Moscow. Jose Mourinho said United were “almost there” in terms of reaching the knockout stages after the victory in Russia and can go closer still on Wednesday at the Estadio da Luz.

Are Benfica that bad?

If current European form continues, United could well be home and dry by the end of matchday four. While Mourinho’s men have yet to drop a point in Group A, Benfica have yet to win one. Losing their opener at home to CSKA Moscow was followed by a 5-0 shellacking at Basel – their biggest-ever Champions League defeat. The Portuguese champions need to turn things around quickly and prove their true quality if they are to progress.

Midfield problems

While Benfica are struggling for form, United are struggling in midfield. Mourinho confirmed to local television that Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic will be the midfield pairing on Wednesday as their injury problems continue to pinch. Paul Pogba has been out since limping off against Basel, while the influential Marouane Fellaini and captain Michael Carrick are also out injured. Andreas Pereira’s loan move to Valencia could be costly.

Five at the back?

United have played two European away games this season and Mourinho has plumped for three-man defences in both. Despite being without Eric Bailly and Phil Jones through suspension for the UEFA Super Cup, the Portuguese went with three at the back in that loss to Real Madrid – just as he did in last month’s win at CSKA Moscow. Bailly is missing again in Lisbon but former Benfica defender Victor Lindelof is an option, along with Jones, Chris Smalling and Axel Tuanzebe.

Shaw thing?

While Antonio Valencia has nailed down the right-back spot, whether as wing-back or full-back, the left side has been more problematic. Matteo Darmian did not pull up any trees there in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool, while Daley Blind and Ashley Young have been deployed in the role. The latter has done particularly well as left-back but looks a short-term fix that United hoped – or perhaps still hope – Luke Shaw was the answer to. Hampered by injury problems, he has been building fitness with the Under-23s and travelled with United to Portugal. The England international needs to make the most of his opportunity, whenever it may come.

Source: By PA Sport Staff


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