Rashford’s bizarre goal gives United victory in Lisbon
José Mourinho’s side far from their best but got the three points
Manchester United’s Juan Mata appeals as Mile Svilar carries Marcus Rashford’s free-kick over the line to give United a 1-0 win at Benfica. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
This was an uneven Manchester United display lit up by the stellar talent of Marcus Rashford.
José Mourinho’s team were heading for a draw or worse until the teenager took hold of this Group A game following the break. Rashford had been terrorising Benfica with his pace when he stepped up to take a free-kick from 25 yards out on the left. The United striker spotted Mile Svilar, who became the youngest ever goalkeeper to start in the Champions League, out of position, promptly hit the ball over him and though the 18-year-old caught it, he failed to keep it from crossing the line to gift the visitors victory.
Mourinho made four changes from Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool. In came Victor Lindelöf, Juan Mata, Rashford and Daley Blind as out dropped Phil Jones, Anthony Martial, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian.
United kicked off hoping to achieve a seventh consecutive unbeaten away game in Europe, which would be their best sequence since the 16 between September 2007 and March 2010.
They did so against the Portuguese champions who had Svilar in goal, the Belgian at 18 years and 52 days eclipsing Iker Casillas’s record as the youngest keeper in Champions League history.
United struggled to string passes together in the early exchanges and would so throughout the opening period. An attempted move involving Nemanja Matic, once of Benfica, broke down and Rui Vitória’s side turned United to put them under sustained pressured.
The visitors responded with a corner of their own, from which a Romelu Lukaku header crashed off the bar, but referee Felix Zwayer adjudged him to have impeded Svilar.
United had continued trouble with their first touch, with Ander Herrera, Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku among those who carelessly ceded possession.
When Matic hit the ball straight at Raúl Jiménez on halfway and had to scramble to stop the breakaway this crystallised United’s start. In an only partially filled Estádio da Luz their sloppiness suggested a sense of drift that could be perilous. United’s quality, though, means they can strike in an instant: when Blind found Rashford’s head this seemed the moment, but the No19 steered the ball over.
United asserted themselves further when Matic broke in from the left and hit a shot at Svilar that caused the keeper to make his first save. This was 10 minutes from the break and by the time it arrived Antonio Valencia had conceded a free-kick close to the United penalty area along Benfica’s left. It came to nothing but Mourinho may have been preparing some choice words as he strode off at half-time.
Whatever he said had United flying from the traps as soon as Zwayer blew to start the second half. A brisk sequence involving Blind, Rashford, Mkhitaryan and Herrera ended with the Spaniard firing wide.
Next, Rashford skipped in from the left and fired at Svilar and United already seemed more purposeful. The 19-year-old threatened again when a lightening stepover combo fooled Douglas down the same side.
Rashford then drew a booking for Diogo Gonçalves , who pulled him down as the forward threatened to break at pace. This had become the Rashford show: one pass that was sprayed to the right deserved better than for Mata to cross it aimlessly in.
So, as all game-breakers can, Rashford decided to go it alone, scoring a memorable goal and causing Svilar’s blushes. The 25-yard free-kick from the left was aimed over the young keeper’s head and though Svilar eventually clutched the ball, his momentum took him over the line to give United the lead.
The sight of Rashford limping away on 76 minutes concerned United while Luisão, the Benfica captain, was sent off in added time after picking up a second booking for scything down substitute Scott McTominay.
But this win means a maximum nine points and United will surely qualify for the knockout stages with ease.