In amongst house swapping, job starts and attending a music festival in a strange island land cast across open water, Some Goals Are Bigger Than Others has become a whispery retreat.
Fear not however! A blog of this colossal magnitude (at least in terms of punnery) is tougher than Bruce Willis on a trip to the Nakatomi Plaza, and so tonight, I bring you our first ‘live blog’ covering the Benfica versus Manchester United group C opener. The time is 7:45pm. The channel is ITV. Let’s go!
The night may be young, but already we’ve seen some epic work from a United midfielder. “I don’t know what kind of eaglie that is, but I asked Roy Keane and he said it was a big one. He’s not wrong!” spouts Adrien Chiles. Clearly the Irish legend still maintains the ability to improve any team he’s placed into.
The teams are as follows…
Benfica Manchester United
GK: Artur GK: Lindegaard
DF: Emerson, Luisao, Pereira, Garay DF: Evra, Evans, Smalling, Fabio
MF: Amorim, Javi Garcia, Gaitan, Witsel MF: Giggs, Carrick, Fletcher
FW: Cardoza, Aimar FW: Park, Rooney, Valencia
Subs: Eduardo, Jardel, Bruno Cesar, Subs: De Gea, Jones, Anderson, Nani,
Matic, Nolito, Machado, Saviola Owen, Berbatov, Hernandez
Kick-off. Both teams line up to attack although United’s starting eleven contains no less than five first starts for the season with Lindegaard, Fabio, Fletcher, Park and Valencia all on from the off. Benfica definitely have the players to hurt United in Gaitan, Witsel, Aimar and Cardoza, not to mention a very strong and well coached supporting cast around them, including ex-Real Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay.
Fourth minute. First real chance of the match for United as Valencia attempts to cut in from the right but to no avail. United have perhaps offered the most cut and thrust so far in the opening minutes but the general play has been generally even.
Fifth minute. Semi-chance for Gaitan as the ball pings about over the United backline but the danger is quickly snuffed out by Lindergaad.
Seventh. Valencia has another go at blasting the Benfica keeper but skies it. Wasteful but United are getting forward well. They just need to settle and find their composure in the final third. At the moment the frontline seem to snatching at the ball.
The eleventh. Things are getting a little choppy at times. Aimar goes down appealing for the ref’s favour but Mr Skomina is having non of it. Great name. Sounds like a spikey Queen ballad.
13th. Replays show Aimar did indeed dive in the seventh. Good reffereeing.
14th. Long range arrow shot by Gaitan. It was always going to swoop over but Lindegaard jumps ready to react if some miracle of Portugeuese physics momentarily takes place.
16th. Some decent build up play by Benfica and its Gaitan again blasting wide. The home side are looking dangerous.
18th. Fabio goes down after being caught only to bounce back up ready for actions moments later.
19th. United look to kick on with their passing game but all credit to Benfica who press up and chase down the ball to great effect, fashioning a chance for themselves only to see Lindegaad swallow it whole. It seemed mishit to be fair.
23rd. Goal to Benfica and its Cardoza. A lovely assist from Gaitan who pings the ball just out of Jonny Evans’ reach for the Paraguayan to apply a fantastic finish. Lindegaad seemed shocked by the shot as Cardoza snapped the ball in early with a sweet touch from the outside of his left boot.
24th. Almost an attempt at an instant reply from United but Rooney is beaten by the goalkeeper who stays down after their aerial tussle. After drama from the Benfica bench Rooney is shown a yellow card. Odd.
29th. The Benfica fans roar their team’s name. Great atmosphere.
30th. Benfica are trotting towards the United goal once again but it comes to nothing as Aimar fires high and wide.
31th. Fletcher clumsily gives away possession with a pass straight into two Benfica players. The ensuing counter results in a cry of handball in the United box by the Benfica players against Jonny Evans. Later replays show the home side may well have had a case.
Fletcher and Giggs really need to get a hold of the midfield here. The former has been active putting himself about but his use of the ball has been poor. I had to go check that Giggs was actually still on the field. Anonymous.
34th. Valencia the hero; galloping back to stretch out a recovery tackle in the United box after yet another break by Benfica. United need to find some composure and retain the ball better. Sloppy.
35th. Chance for Sow as his volley is blocked. Benfica win a corner which is plucked out of the air by Lindegaad.
39th. More impressive closing down work from Benfica as Sow puts in a great block. United aren’t even being offered the scraps.
41th. Shut up Greg Johnson. You know nothing about football, nothing! Ryan Giggs equalises for Manchester United with a beautiful, smooth ball into the back of the Benfica net. It’s 1-1.
43rd. Giggs with another chance as he floats a speculative cross into the aerial melee between keeper, defender and striker. This time, however, the Benfica netting stays static. Manchester United seem to have woken up!
Half time at the Stadium of Light (not yours Sunderlanders!) in Portgual and its level with one goal apiece. Benfica has looked the most threatening side at times and have been fierce closing down United’s play, but Fergie’s side looked out of sorts in the first forty minutes; their passing and lethal accuracy in fron of goal strangely absent. With Giggs’ repieving late half goal though, United should come out of the dressing room fired up and refocussed on tightening up their football which has been disappointingly sloppy, particularly through the middle.
Evra, Carrick and Fletcher must step up their game in the second half with the fault of the first goal falling partly to the left side full back and the issues with retenting possession unhelped by the two midfielders doziness. Although he deserves plaudits for his smoothly taken equaliser, a goal that appeared to arrow out from nothing, Giggs must also do more as his team’s central creative force. Hopefully the timeless Welshman can continue on from the last 10 minutes of the first half. Such imeptus will be needed to give any fresh team talked determination direction as United looks for the win. All credit to Benfica for their goal and constant threat. The closing 45 minutes could well be blockbuster now that both participants are wide awake and ready to go. We hope.
We’re off again any how. The whistle goes for the start of the second half and we’re underway…
45th. Almost immediately Cardoza is again threatening the United goal but his efforts are irrelevant as the whistle goes against him. Hand ball.
47th. United have a go. Rooney finds himself in space, picking out Valencia on the right who slides a low cross through the forest of legs and feet in the mouth of the Benfica goal. Somehow a touch fails to materialise however and the balls go out of play. Better by United although they seemed to be at half-pace as they approached the opposition goal. Benfica’s pressing means that space is at a premium with no room to run into and attack.
Fifty. Rooney receives the ball in the hole and quickly unleashes a diagonal ball up the right flank for Valencia to outpace his marker onto. Unfortunately for Antonio he’s run off and the ball run out. Valencia appeals to the referee for some satisfaction but, rightly, finds nothing.
52th. The Benfica fans are still making noise but the travelling United followers seem mute. Every chance in the Benfica half this game has triggered deathly silence as the Benfica squirm and freeze. Unfortunate that there appears to be little away chanting to cover their hushes. This is TV of course. Who knows what it actually sounds like in there. Damn dodgy microphones…
54th. A chance for Benfica but Cardoza is offside. He still shoots however and the ball pinballs against both posts and back out again. The Benfica fans hiss like somone just poked a collective gash.
55th. Aimar drives a speculative shot toward Lindegaad but the United keeper quickly has it under control. Benfica make an attacking substitution replacing Amorim with new signing Nolito, formerly of Barcelona B who has begun life at his new club by scoring in each and every one of his first five games this season, matching a record held by the Eusabio. Not a bad way to introduce yourself at all.
59th. United seem to have nailed down much of their uncertainty at the back but they still seem shaky in attack. A few scuffled passes in the final third ends up with a Park Ji-Sung shot deflected to a United corner. The rewarded set piece comes to nothing.
61th. Great ball by Valencia into the box but Benfica head it away to safety.
62nd. Another scruffy cloud of exchanges in the Benfica box as Park Ji-Sung misteps and fails to connect on what would have been a certain goal. Fletcher eventually pangs the ball into the hands of Artur.
63rd. Giggs again, but this time panned wide by Artur. He seemed to have all the time in the world to turn and take his shot in slow motion. Still got it.
65th. Eyes to the bench and Hernandez and Nani are warming up ready to join the action… chance for Nolito! Another threatening counter attack from the home side as Aimar directs the counter charge. Lindegaad gets a hand to the shot making a great save.
67th. Nolito to Emerson and a shot flashes across the face of the United goal. As the ball leaves the field, Fletcher and Valencia are replaced by Hernandez and Nani respectively.
68th. Some great battling down the left flank as Perrera evades Park Ji-Sung before duking it out with Evra on the byline. The Frenchman goes down after an overly physical reproach by the Benfica player.
Seventy. News just in and Napoli are 1-0 up at the City of Manchester Stadium where our man in blue, Dan Morehead is watching the game live. The scorer is Edison Cavani. If you had to concede, surely you’d want it to be at the hands of possibly the worlds next best superstar striker?
72nd. Another intervention needed by Andreas Lindegaad as Nolito once again breaks through the threaten the away goal. United seem to be playing deeper now, perhaps hoping to soak up the pressure and break now that Nani and Hernandez are on the field. A risky strategy considering the quality in the boots of some of the Benfica players out there today.
74th. Goodbye Aimar, hello Nemanja Matic. You may remember him from his Chelsea days although you probably won’t.
75th. Another bumbling tussle over the top for Benfica as the ball desends down behind the United back line. The defense responds well however, tidyly sweeping the ball out of the danger zone.
76th. Lindegaag again with another solid save. Good effort by Benfica’s Garcia.
More news from the City of… sorry, Etihad Arena. City have equalised thanks to Kolarov. Interesting.
77th. Jones is on. Fabio off.
78th. United seem to have slowed the play down now but Benfica are still raring for the counter with a miss pass up field quickly converted into a surge back up towards Lindegaad’s area. Jones concedes a freekick out on the right flank.
I must say, Benfica’s coach Jorge Jesus is great to watch. Dressed like some of hybrid theatrical producer and middle aged studio painter whilst throwing out brushstroke hand gestures as if running his team like a legion of on-string red puppets.
82nd. United still look to punch through if possible. The Roonandez combo delivers another ball to chase into the Benfica box but Artur cleans up the danger. Still a bit raggity going forward.
84th. Here’s Jones powering into the opposition box but he chooses to wait and shoot rather than sliding in an earlier cross and the balls deflects out of play. The corner almost gives United a chance but Rooney’s ruled offside.
87th. Nolito!!! After dancing past Carrick and bursting into the United box he blows it wide, falling the grass before slapping his hand to the floor. He knows what that should have been.
88th. Audacious. Cardoza attempts a half way line chip against Lindegaad but its way off target and the ball lands wide right.
89th. The Benfica support scream their team on but United are once again in ascendency in the final third, that is until another sloppy pass and a Benfica block revert the momentum back to the home side who earnestly build their play back up the field before losing possession again to United. Both sides seem to want the ball here but neither appear to want to risk truly commiting to driving it home at the sharp end of play.
Ninety. Gaitan is replaced by Bruno Cesar.
The 91st minute and we have the result. Full-time at the Stadium of Light and its 1-1. A fair result against a side who competed extremely well and a fixture that will probably be United’s toughest away game of the group stage this year. After hearing from the players post-match, apparently the United support was loud and clear in the stadium itself. Perhaps ITV sound start using more than a webcam mic to record games in the 21st century.
Then again, when has technology and football ever worked together in the damn of progress? Perhaps the sound pumped into our living rooms is actually produced by a 5th official beatboxing (badly) down a karaoke set. Blergh.