United’s young generation may have caught the eye so far this season, but it was the team’s elder statesman Ryan Giggs who stepped up to the plate in the Champions League opener against Benfica, earning the Reds a hard-fought point in a hugely entertaining contest at the Estadio da Luz.
Oscar Cardozo had put the impressive Portuguese side ahead with a fine turn and finish on 24 minutes, but Giggs’ run and glorious strike just before the break ensured it finished honours even in Lisbon.
It was all change when the team-sheets came through as Sir Alex recalled a host of familiar faces, many of whom were in need of some minutes on the pitch. David De Gea was afforded a rest as Anders Lindegaard came in between the posts for his first Champions League appearance in the red shirt, while Fabio joined Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra in the back four. There was a new look to United’s attack with Ji-sung Park, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia all making their first starts of the season. Michael Carrick joined the quartet in midfield with Wayne Rooney occupying the lone role up front, as he has so often done away in Europe.
Many believed this would be United’s toughest game of Group C and the opening half an hour did little to dispel that theory as Jorge Jesus’ side, backed by an incredibly vocal support, went for the jugular.
While Javi Garcia, Ruben Amorim and Axel Witsel were pulling the strings in midfield and driving Benfica forward at every opportunity, it was Nicolas Gaitan, playing down the left, as part of a three-pronged attack, who really caught the eye for the home side. He went close to testing Lindegaard with a thundering effort on 17 minutes which flew wide, before Cardozo stung the palms of the Danish goalkeeper with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area.