Manchester United FC and SL Benfica were the smoother travellers as the Group D contenders went on the road this weekend with mixed success. Villarreal CF and LOSC Lille Métropole were glad to get home with a point.
Sunderland AFC 1-3 Manchester United FC
Manchester United claimed their fourth away win of the Premiership season with a professional performance at Sunderland. Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooij were both on target before 18-year-old striker Giuseppe Rossi registered his first goal for the club late on. United stay ten points behind leaders Chelsea, but have a game in hand.
Although Sunderland held their own for much of the first half, Rooney opened the scoring five minutes before the break, sliding the ball past goalkeeper Kelvin Davis after a sweeping move. Rooney turned provider for United's second, playing in Van Nistelrooij, who increased his Premiership tally to eight. Stephen Elliott reduced arrears with a stunning effort before New Jersey-born Italian Rossi made the points safe in the 87th minute.
"With us having had players away on international duty, I always worry about the first 20 minutes," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "I think we were fortunate to be 1-0 up at half-time - Sunderland played very well and didn't get any joy for it."
Kieran Richardson's injury-enforced absence (thigh) allowed Phil Bardsley to make his first Premiership start at right-back, with John O'Shea covering for Richardson on the left. Alan Smith continued to deputise for Roy Keane in central midfield, but Ryan Giggs was not included in the squad.
FC Porto 0-2 SL Benfica
Benfica ended a 14-year wait to win at Porto thanks to two goals from Nuno Gomes. The striker scored his first after 56 minutes, heading home Nélson's cross. Then, after Ricardo Costa failed to clear a Geovanni centre, the Portuguese international had no trouble making it 2-0. The result was all the more impressive as it was achieved after Fabrizio Miccoli's 14th-minute withdrawal with a thigh injury. The Italian joined the watching José Moreira (right knee) and João Pereira (right thigh) on the sidelines.
Both teams finished a game rich in tactics but poor in goalscoring opportunities with ten men. After Porto's Bruno Alves was dismissed in the 81st minute following a clash with Nuno Gomes, Benfica defender Léo saw his second yellow card of the night five minutes from time.
Koeman, whose opposite number was another Dutch coach in Co Adriaanse, said: "The most important thing is that Benfica won. It was not a victory for Koeman against Adriaanse. I am very happy and I think we deserved it. Things were not easy for us in the first half but we improved a lot in the second. All the players were outstanding. This will boost our morale for the Champions League, but now is the time to enjoy a great victory."
Deportivo Alavés SAD 1-1 Villarreal CF
A depleted Villarreal were held at lowly Alavés with both of the goals coming during a frantic opening. The visitors went ahead after just three minutes, when Roger García was perfectly placed to slot home at the second attempt from close range. But Alavés levelled nine minutes later as Anderson Luiz de Carvalho 'Nené' left goalkeeper Sebastián Viera floored before side-footing home from ten metres.
Villarreal controlled much of the second half but struggled to break down a congested defence and were grateful to see John Aloisi's late effort come back off the woodwork. Midfielders Marcos Senna (muscle problems) and Josico (achilles) limped out of the action and are both doubtful for the Benfica game.
Pellegrini said: "We were presented with numerous chances during the first half and could easily have gone in at half-time with a decent advantage. But the game levelled out later on and Alavés put more pressure on us." The coach rested some star names - Juan Román Riquelme, carrying a groin strain, stayed at home along with Diego Forlán, who came back tired from international duty with Uruguay. César Arzo replaced Quique Álvarez, who has a thigh problem, and partnered Gonzalo Rodríguez in central defence.
Le Mans UC 72 1-1 LOSC Lille Métropole
Claude Puel's side slipped from sixth to eighth place in France's Ligue 1 after hanging on for a point at Le Mans. Efstathios Tavlaridis conceded a sixth-minute penalty that home midfielder Frédéric Thomas successfully converted, before Matt Moussilou scored an instant equaliser from close range following good work by Geoffrey Dernis. It was Moussilou's second goal of the season. Although Peter Odemwingie missed a late chance, Lille were on the back foot in the closing stages.
"The team showed good character to respond after the first goal and then hold on at the end. They were focused on Le Mans and not thinking about the Champions League next week," said Puel, who rested Nicolas Fauvergue and Milenko Ačimovič. Odemwingie and Mathieu Debuchy started on the bench, Jean Makoun was suspended, while midfielder Stéphane Dumont definitely misses the trip to Manchester United with a knee injury. A knee problem is also set to keep Yohan Cabaye out of the game.
Puel now hopes his side will show more of the spirit that was in evidence last term when they were league runners-up. "The personnel hasn't changed since last season but the team is not the same," he said in midweek, while captain Grégory Tafforeau admitted: "We have lost the will to work hard and suffer on the pitch."
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