Manchester Utd 2 Benfica 2
Manchester United 2 SL Benfica 2, Old Trafford, UEFA Champions League Group Stage, November 22, 2011. Manchester United could only manage a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Benfica. The hosts came from behind to lead 2-1 thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Fletcher, only to be pulled back to parity by a goal from Pablo Aima.
After defeating Swansea City 1-0 at Liberty Stadium in the Premier League thanks to an early first period goal from Javier Hernandez, Manchester United welcomed Benfica to Old Trafford in their fifth match in UEFA Champions League Group C. The Mancunians were without the playing services of the injured Michael Owen and the suspended Nemanja Vidic for the encounter against Benfica, while Chris Smalling made his return to match action for the Old Trafford club. As for Benfica, who had beaten Naval 1-0 at the Estadio Municipal Jose Bento Pessoa in the fourth round of the Portuguese Cup courtesy of a late goal from Figueira da Foz in their previous fixture, the Lisbon outfit had to cope without Argentinian midfield playmaker Javier Saviola because of an injury to his knee. Both clubs were level on points ahead of the showdown, but Manchester United had a superior goal difference. In the reverse encounter played in Lisbon two months earlier, United had managed a creditable 1-1 draw against the Primeira Liga team thanks to an astonishing goal from veteran player Ryan Giggs just a few minutes before the sound of the half-time whistle after Oscar Cardozo had handed the home side the lead in the 24th minute of the closely contested midweek game. Reigning Barclays Premier League Champions Manchester United had beaten Benfica in six of the previous eight meetings between the two European giants and were favourites to overcome the Portuguese who had last defeated The Reds on the 7th of December 2005 when they edged out Sir Alex Ferguson´s men by a 2-1 margin in a Champions League Group Stage fixture at The Stadium of Light in Lisbon, with Brazilian midfielders Geovanni and Gilberto Beto scoring a goal each for the home side, and Paul Scholes finding the net for the guests from England.
Manchester United supporters expecting the team to make a strong start to the group stage match were in for an early shock as Benfica took the lead in the third minute of the Champions League clash when a dangerous cross from midfield orchestrator Nicolas Gaitan hit full back Patrice Evra before it deflected off central defender Phil Jones and into back of the net to put the visiting side ahead. Manchester United managed to even the score after 28 minutes of action, however, as Dimitar Berbatov converted an accurate cross from Iberian winger Luis Nani. United kept on attacking and the red shirts eventually went ahead thirteen minutes into the second half thanks to a goal from the hard working Darren Fletcher, but strong running midfield motor Pablo Aimar equalised for Benfica only a couple of minutes later. Manchester United looked to Berbatov for a bit of magic, but the big centre forward´s luck was out. With fifteen minutes remaining of the tussle, Michael Carrick was deservedly booked after a tough challenge on goal scorer Aimar and he would now miss the final group fixture against Swiss Champions Basel due to yellow card accumulation. Sir Alex Ferguson decided to replace the anonymous Antonio Valencia with Javier Hernandez in the 80th minute, but there was too little time left for the Mexican marksman to get involved in the contest. Although Manchester United pressed hard duing the closing stages of the tie, the frantic home team were unable to find the back of the net. Thanks to the 2-2 draw against The Red Devils at Old Trafford, The Eagles were now topping Group C. Manchester United Team: David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Fabio, Phil Jones, Valencia, Ashley Young, Patrice Evra, Nani, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov. Substitutes: Rafael, Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs, Darron Gibson, Ji-Sung Park, Javier Hernandez, Anders Lindegaard. Benfica Team: Artur, Emerson, Ezequiel Garay, Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Javi Garcia, Pablo Aimar, Nicolas Gaitan, Axel Witsel, Bruno Cesar, Rodrigo Moreno. Substitutes: Ruben Amorim, Miguel Vitor, Nemanja Matic, Nolito, Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Oliveira, Eduardo.
Darren Fletcher Quickfacts
Darren Fletcher was handed his Manchester United debut by Sir Alex Ferguson in a one-all UEFA Champions League draw against Swiss side FC Basel at Old Trafford on the 12th of March 2003.