Manchester United all but secured their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Benfica on Tuesday.
An unfortunate own goal from young goalkeeper Mile Svilar at the end of the first half and a Daley Blind penalty after the break gave Jose Mourinho’s side their fourth win from four games in Group A and put them on the brink of the knockout phase.
Svilar gifted United a win in Lisbon two weeks ago when he carried Marcus Rashford’s free-kick over the line but he seemed ready to make amends at Old Trafford when he saved Anthony Martial’s 15th-minute penalty.
The home side, who gave Scott McTominay a first start in the competition as the likes of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Rashford were rested from the start, were not wholly convincing in their display against a team without a point from four matches.
But they found a breakthrough when Nemanja Matic’s shot hit the post and went in off Svilar before having to survive some Benfica pressure in the second half, in which Raul Jimenez hit the post following an Eric Bailly mistake.
Svilar made good saves to deny Romelu Lukaku and keep his side in the contest but it proved to be in vain, as Blind fired home from the spot with 13 minutes left to put United six points clear of Basel and CSKA Moscow at the top of the group with two games left.
Svilar was under the spotlight from the outset but he enjoyed a moment to savour after 15 minutes, when he dived low to his right to keep out Martial’s tame penalty.
Benfica had actually started the brighter of the teams and David de Gea was forced into a fine save to keep a stinging strike from Diogo Goncalves out of the top-left corner.
Juan Mata had shouts for a second penalty waved away as United began to offer more of a sustained threat, with Svilar reacting well to keep Lukaku’s shot from squeezing in at the near post before the Belgium striker headed over a promising Martial cross.
On the brink of first-half stoppage time, United’s growing pressure told, albeit thanks to yet more bad luck for Benfica’s 18-year-old goalkeeper. Matic’s low strike from 25 yards out came off the base of the right-hand post, rebounded off Svilar’s back and into the net, thereby making him the youngest player to score an own goal in the competition.
United seemed to relax early in the second half after having found the breakthrough, and De Gea made another good save to deny Goncalves as Benfica were given licence to enjoy possession in the home side’s half.
The crowd was becoming frustrated by United’s lethargy, which should have been punished in the 65th minute, when Jimenez intercepted Bailly’s poor pass on the edge of the area and placed his shot onto the outside of the left-hand post.
Svilar saved well at the feet of Lukaku and McTominay was denied by a good block, but Rashford produced the telling impact off the bench when his outstanding run into the box was halted by Andreas Samaris’ crude block.
Lukaku looked poised to take the penalty before responsibilities were strangely handed over to Blind, who blasted down the middle of the goal to seal the victory.