Manchester United all but secured their passage to the next round of the Champions League and extended their perfect run in the competition by securing a 2-0 win over Benfica at Old Trafford.
United should have taken the lead in the 15th minute. Anthony Martial had been probing in the early moments, and the French attacker won a penalty after being brought down in the Benfica box. He took the spot kick himself, but teenage goalkeeper Mile Svilar guessed right and pushed the weak effort wide of the post.
Minutes later, it was Benfica’s turn to be denied. Diogo Goncalves took a stinging shot from outside of the box, only for a leaping David de Gea to tip the ball wide.
United continued to threaten, and Romelu Lukaku got in on the act with two chances in quick succession. First, a snap shot from a difficult angle was saved. A minute later, he headed a cross from Martial just over the bar.
It was an open first half, as Benfica showed that they were in no way overawed by the occasion. The Portuguese side ran at the United backline at will, but the Reds were giving as good as they got. Unbowed by the penalty miss, Martial continued his direct running and seemed to have the beating of full-back Douglas every time.
United did finally go ahead just before halftime. Benfica old boy Nemanja Matić took a stinging shot from 30 yards out. The ball hit the upright, before bouncing off of the unfortunate Svilar and in. It was another unlucky incident for the young stopper, but he partly made amends by keeping out Lukaku in stoppage time when his Belgian compatriot was clean through on goal.
José Mourinho made his first chage at the break, sending on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in place of the definitely yellow-carded and possibly injured Jesse Lingard.
The second half picked up where the first left off, with both teams pushing for a goal. After a few half chances for United in front of the Stretford End, Goncalves drew another sharp save out of De Gea at the hour mark.
Sloppiness had now crept into United's play, and a poor giveaway from Eric Bailly presented Raul Jimenez that beat De Gea but not the post. In a response to the lack of control of midfield, Mourinho sent on Ander Herrera for the enterprising Juan Mata.
The match continued to be an open affair, and Mourinho made a final change in an attempt to extend the lead. Birthday boy Marcus Rashford came on for Martial after 75 minutes, and made an instant impact. The now 20 year-old went right at the Benfica backline, and beat a couple of defenders before being brought down for another penalty.
Daley Blind of all people stepped up to take it, and coolly doubled United's lead. From there on out, United threatened without much conviction, but the only action of note was from the traveling Benfica supporters, who continued to make themselves heard in a subdued Old Trafford. It was not a vintage performance, but United did enough in the end.