United and Benfica eye knockout stage
Manchester: Manchester United have improved their concentration levels in keeping five successive clean sheets and like Benfica will have only one thing on their minds today with both clubs able to wrap up qualification for the Champions League knockout stage.
The pair have eight points in Group C, with United ahead on goal difference, and victory for either at Old Trafford would put that side through as group winners with a game to spare. A draw would send both through if FC Basel lose to Otelul Galati.
Alex Ferguson's United have tightened up since last month's 6-1 drubbing by Premier League leaders Manchester City, with the manager saying that game had been a "wake-up call" that has been followed by five wins in a row with clean sheets.
"A few weeks ago there was genuine criticism about the defending and the chances opponents were getting," Ferguson told MUTV after Saturday's 1-0 league win at Swansea City. "When you win these games 1-0 it brings the concentration back to a good level which has been lacking. The concentration we showed today is exactly the concentration we need back in the team."
The return from injury of captain Nemanja Vidic to marshal the heart of defence has coincided with the improvement but United will not be able to count on him against Benfica while he serves the second of a two-match ban.
In his absence, Rio Ferdinand is likely to be partnered by Jonny Evans as last season's runners-up seek to qualify from the group stage for a sixth consecutive year.
United have also had problems in midfield due to injuries, with Ferguson resorting to deploying striker Wayne Rooney in a central role in this month's 2-0 win over Galati in their last European game, but they are now looking in better shape.
"Michael Carrick was outstanding," Ferguson said of the midfielder's first league start of the season at Swansea. "I thought he did really well — it was a big performance from him. "To get Michael back to that form and have the likes of Ryan [Giggs] available gives us good options."