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United’s Sloppy Defending Needs To Be Addressed Quickly

Manchester United produced a sloppy defensive performance to leave qualification from their Champions League group still in the balance.

It seems as if Manchester United will do everything in their power to avoid winning their Champions League group, by displaying uncharacteristically careless, clumsy and watery defensive performances, conceding extremely avoidable goals, and leaving the side with an unnecessary uphill battle to claw their way back into the game.

Phil Jones’ first Manchester United goal was supposed to have been welcomed with delighted screams from a frenzied Old Trafford crowd who have witnessed the young, bullish Englishman force his way forward on a number of occasions in the past only to narrowly miss the target. Unfortunately, when his first was finally flicked into the net, it was the wrong one, and United were down a goal in a crucial Champions League Group game against a dangerous and talented Benfica side.

If United were trying to subtly concede goals in some sort of odd, reverse-psychology tactic, this was perhaps a bit too obvious in front of 75,000 expectant fans. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson would not have enjoyed the unconventional alleged strategy that his players were ‘using’, and one look at his familiar old face shielding the inner fury set to be unleashed in the dressing room at half time was enough for his players to buck their ideas up, and quickly.

Fortunately, the attacking players in United’s considerably talented side were to have a decent game in the final third, with a number of passages which saw intricate, accurate and intelligent passes to create a number of goalscoring opportunities. Nani was excellent throughout, and sought to correct the own goal with a wonderful cross to the head of Dimitar Berbatov, who had not scored a Champions League goal in three years. Offside he may have been, but having suffered a drought like that, the Bulgarian deserved a break, and his header bounced expertly across the goalkeeper and into the net, much to the crowds delight.

The momentum was with United now, and following some nice link up play between Berbatov and Ashley Young, who played in an unfamiliar central role in the absence of an injured Wayne Rooney, the latter was given the opportunity when one-on-one with the Benfica goalkeeper. Nothing came of the chance thanks to a save from the ‘keeper, but the crowd had been awoken, and were eager for some more of this tasty attacking play which was quick and incisive.

On the hour mark, Patrice Evra spotted a potential chance from the left, and crossed it in to a surprisingly dangerous position for his standards. Darren Flether had burst into the box and finished the chance on his second attempt to put United ahead. Now all the Reds had to do was keep the lead and perhaps take a chance to improve on it. Keeping calm and controlled was to be key, but seconds later, a different key had been turned in the wrong door, and United’s defence was unlocked again by some sloppy play at the back.

David de Gea’s kick was poor from a pass back, and was intercepted. Seconds later, Rio Ferdinand, falling backwards, provided the assist with his groin, as Pablo Aimar finished from two yards out thanks to the back-line muddle. Suddenly, the buzz that had spread around the stadium when Fletcher scored United’s second had been passed politely over to the away end, who couldn’t believe their luck.

United continued to surge forward, and a Berbatov goal was correctly ruled offside before the Bulgarian striker fired over from just eight yards out as a difficult volleyed chance presented itself. If anyone was to have the ability to take that chance, it would have been him. Not then. United pressed, with Hernandez coming on late on with the hope to grab a goal, but United’s counter productiveness had cost them.

It is a worrying issue that saw United concede 3 in the same competition in the same stadium against Basel, and double that amount in the infamous loss to City. It must be addressed as (or if) United  progress into the later stages of the competition, or they face being embarrassed by tougher, more penetrating opposition.

Watch the goals from Man Utd 2-2 Benfica


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