It was far from vintage Manchester United, but Jose Mourinho’s side got the job done as they beat Benfica 1-0 in Lisbon to keep their stranglehold on Champions League group A.
It’s now three wins from three for the Reds after Marcus Rashford’s free-kick – helped over the line by Benfica’s young goalkeeper Mile Svilar – earned a hard-fought victory in the Estadio da Luz.
The squad arrived back at Manchester Airport around 2am on Thursday morning following the short flight back from Portugal.
But it wasn’t time for bed – striker Romelu Lukaku posted a video on his Instagram account of an ice bath, labelled ‘Recovery 3am.’
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho walks through arrivals at Manchester Airport after his side returned from Lisbon and a 1-0 Champions League win over Benfica
Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, wearing a club tracksuit, arrives back in Manchester
Marcus Rashford scored the decisive goal against Benfica with a long-range free-kick
Antonio Valencia smiles and shakes hands with his brother after United arrived back home
The players looked understandably tired but were no doubt contented by the manner of the performance which saw them enjoy the lion’s share of possession and all the best chances.
Having come in for criticism following his uber-defensive approach at Anfield that earned a 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Saturday, Mourinho saw fit to defend his tactics after another below-par performance.
He said: ‘We were the team that was positive and we were always in control. I never felt that we would concede a goal, we were very solid defensively.
‘Sometimes I feel that to be good defensively is a crime but it is not a crime. To be good defensively is one step to get results.
Defender Victor Lindelof tried to keep a low profile after helping United to beat his old club
Defender Chris Smalling, who played against Benfica, wheels his suitcase through arrivals
Jesse Lingard (right) and Luke Shaw make their return to Manchester after the Portugal trip
‘We knew the Benfica pressure could not stay for 90 minutes. The amazing defensive work Liverpool did against us, Benfica could not do that for the whole game.
‘Without any pressure, we knew the goal would arrive.’
It duly did on 64 minutes when Rashford spotted that 18-year-old goalkeeper Svilar was standing too far off his line as he sized up a free-kick close to the touchline.
Romelu Lukaku (right) and Shaw smiles as they arrive back at Manchester Airport on Thursday
Man United fixtures
Premier League unless stated
Saturday Huddersfield Town (A)
October 24 Swansea City (A)
EFL Cup fourth round
October 28 Tottenham Hotspur (H)
October 31 Benfica (H)
Champions League group stage
November 5 Chelsea (A)
November 18 Newcastle United (H)
Rashford’s delivery was perfect and Svilar’s reactions too slow, the keeper’s attempts to push the ball back over the line in vain as referee Felix Zwayer instantly awarded the goal thanks to the goalline technology.
Having beaten Basle 3-0 and CSKA Moscow 4-1 already, the win over Benfica means United have nine points from nine and top Group A, three points ahead of the Swiss side.
Another win over Benfica at Old Trafford in a fortnight will ensure their passage to the knockout stages.
In the meantime, United will aim to keep pace with their neighbours and Premier League leaders Manchester City when they travel to Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon.
Marcus Rashford celebrates with his team-mates after scoring United’s winning goal
Benfica keeper Mile Svilar couldn’t prevent the ball crossing the line after being caught out