Football

Debutant's howler presents United with winner

Benfica's teenage goalkeeper gets consoled by Lukaku and Co after making error

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho may have won over few neutrals with his cautious approach, but United's players have at least earned some praise for an act of sportsmanship after their 1-0 away win over Benfica yesterday morning (Singapore time).

United striker Romelu Lukaku and a few others went up to console Benfica's debutant goalkeeper Mile Svilar, who was in tears after the final whistle as his mistake had presented Marcus Rashford with the winner.

Svilar, who erased Iker Casillas' record to become the youngest goalkeeper to play in the Champions League at 18 years old and 52 days, was back-pedalling to catch Rashford's 64th-minute free-kick, but eventually carried the ball over the line.

Said the Belgian: "I played a good game but could have done better with the goal. It's part of growing up. That's what being a goalkeeper is about.

"A striker can make some mistakes but if he scores, everything is forgotten; a goalkeeper can play a perfect game, but one moment can ruin it. But this won't affect me at all."

On what Lukaku told him, Svilar said: "It was nice. He just said, 'You don't have to worry, just keep working and you'll be okay'."

Not surprisingly, Mourinho had deliberately targeted Svilar, hoping to gain advantage from the debutant's nerves.

Said Mourinho: "I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that.

"We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out."

United midfielder Nemanja Matic added that Mourinho had instructed them to test the youngster, who is the son of former Serbia goalkeeper Ratko.

Matic told BT Sport: "The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game.

"This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future."

To be sure, Svilar had also done well to deny Matic and Anthony Martial, as United produced almost a carbon copy of last Saturday's safety-first display in their 0-0 EPL draw with Liverpool.

Naturally, Mourinho was only too quick to defend his approach.

"I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively," he told BT Sport.

"Sometimes, I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.

"We are one point from qualifying and one victory away from winning the group with two games at home to play."

Despite winning, Mourinho's style has its detractors, including former Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy.

The former Welsh international, who was speaking as a pundit on Sky Sports, believes that the Red Devils are losing their identity under the pragmatic Portuguese.

"Manchester United are more than titles," said Bellamy. "As a club, they have a certain way of playing and, as a club, they've let that go for the time being.

"Sir Bobby Charlton said it over the years that Mourinho isn't a Man United type of manager.

"At the moment, for their desperation to win trophies, to get back to the top, they'll bring him in and they'll let it go for now, but there will only be a period Man United supporters and Man United as a football club will allow this to happen for."

However, former United midfielders Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, speaking as TV pundits for ITV and BT Sport respectively, have backed Mourinho.

Keane believes "the clean sheets will allow United to build foundations to get trophies", while Scholes feels that it is acceptable for United to play cautiously now because "they haven't been in a position to win the league". - WIRE SERVICES

Manchester UnitedChampions LeagueRomelu Lukaku