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What We Learned: Manchester United avoid Halloween horror show with controlling win

Perhaps not the vintage everyone hoped for, but one can hardly accuse it of being a game without event. Two penalties given, one good shout turned down, a hilarious own goal and some brilliant individual displays should get the plaudits they inevitably won’t as United failed to score 30. At the end of the day, when other results stop you from qualifying with two games remaining you can’t do a great deal about it. Here is what we learned this evening against Benfica.

McTominay shines and Martial dazzles

If the winning goal against Spurs at the weekend wasn’t reason enough to start Anthony Martial then his performance tonight should seal it with wax. Penalty miss aside, Martial was the best player in the pitch and was skinning people with absolutely no regard for their feelings. He made the Benfica defence look like a bunch of amateurs on a disturbing amount of occasions. Once or twice he perhaps made the wrong choice or didn’t quite get his feet right but overall he was unplayable all evening. Scott McTominay looked like he’d been playing for years this evening, on his first Champions League start. He took up some excellent positions, wanted the ball and dropped deeper to pick it up and look to create with excellent regularity. He still has a lot to learn, but his progression has perhaps slid under the radar, and the glimpses we have been treated to thus far show a bright future ahead.

He isn’t scoring but he can lead

He being Romelu Lukaku. And it is characteristic of him to hit a trough at points in the season, so his current form isn’t a surprise to those that remember this fact. The service wasn’t always there for him, but Lukaku did manage a handful of chances that were well thwarted by keeper and defenders alike. But what really stood out for me was the maturity he showed off the ball. Anthony Martial miscontrolled one inside the area and the man geeing him up was Lukaku. Even when he was disappointed with not taking the penalty, he didn’t allow it to faze him. Thoroughly professional from the Belgian tonight, and I’m confident the goals will come.

Conclusion

For those crying out for expansive, attacking football you need to look through the history books at how Mourinho sets his side’s up. It won’t happen often and he always prioritises getting the job done over substance. Tough. It works. An honour mention goes to Mile Svilar whose luck the past two games against United has been awful. The lad made some cracking saves and was horribly unlucky with the own goal. Otherwise, there wasn’t much of note. Henrikh Mkhitaryan continues to baffle as he affects games as much as anyone watching does, and eight home wins from eight this season feels extremely nice to say. Match with that 10 clean sheets in 12 games and the boring Manchester United with no hope of anything actually have a very pleasing record to look at. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t entertaining, by golly it is working.

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