Manchester Utd 2 Benfica 2

Darren Fletcher

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.


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