Manchester United eased to a routine 2-0 win over Benfica to maintain their perfect start to their UEFA Champions League campaign but Jose Mourinho’s decision to give defender Daley Blind a penalty raised eyebrows and the Portuguese tactician revealed why he chose the Dutchman over Romelu Lukaku to take the spot-kick.
“I’m paid to make decisions – good or bad – and in the first half it was a bad decision because the player that I chose to take the penalty missed. In the second half I made another decision and I don’t see the drama because there is no drama,” Mourinho explained at the post-match press conference in Manchester.
Anthony Martial, who was awarded the Man of the Match award on MUTV, won a penalty early on but his spot-kick was saved by 18-year-old Mile Svilar.
United, however, would eventually take the lead, via fortuitous circumstances. Nemanja Matic’s drilled shot hit the post before rebounding off the young Benfica custodian’s back and trickling into the goal on the stroke of half-time.
Mourinho sent on Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford in the second-half as the Red Devils sought that second goal which would give them some breathing space.
Rashford came on for Martial and would win a penalty soon after his introduction but despite having top scorer Romelu Lukaku on the pitch, Mourinho gave Blind the green light to take the spot-kick.
And the Portuguese tactician said the fact that Blind had been impressive in training with penalties had put him at the top of the pecking order.
Lukaku, who has scored 10 times (all competitions) since his £75 million move in the summer but hasn’t found the back of the net in his last six games for United, had missed a penalty once this season.
“The penalty taker for this match was Martial, he took one in the first half and missed. And he was not on the pitch when the second one happened, so then, I had a decision to make,” the 54-year-old said.
“Romelu wants to take it because he has that personality to want to take the responsibility – so does Herrera. But my decision based on what we did on training in the past couple of days was Blind. The players respect my decision and that’s it – end of story,” Mourinho added.
As the Red Devils won their fourth European game on the trot, they now top Group A with 12 points and are virtually assured of progression to the knockouts.
United next face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, a place where they haven’t enjoyed much success in the past, but will approach the tie with newfound swagger especially after the Blues were humbled by Roma on Tuesday in their Champions League fixture.