It’s rare that a team is awarded two penalties in one game, but that’s exactly what happened during Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Benfica on Tuesday night.
Anthony Martial won a spot-kick in the first half and stepped up to take it. Jose Mourinho revealed after the match that the Frenchman was the player on penalty-taking duty for the game, but he missed.
In the second half, another penalty was awarded when Marcus Rashford was pushed over in the box minutes after coming onto the pitch. But what ensued was fairly strange.
Martial had been substituted for Rashford and probably wouldn’t have taken it anyway after seeing his first attempt saved. Romelu Lukaku, on the back of going five games without a goal, immediately went to get the ball. The Belgian has never been his club's penalty taker, though, with Leighton Baines on duty at Everton. This means Lukaku has only scored six penalties in the league in his career.
Lukaku had already missed one at United, with Kasper Schmeichel saving his attempt against Leicester, which likely influenced the manager's decision to hand the responsibility to Marital.
Lukaku and Mourinho have history when it comes to penalties, though. The Belgian took an awful spot-kick in the final of the 2013 Super Cup final for Chelsea against Bayern Munich. Manuel Neuer’s save meant the Germans lifted the trophy.
Reports suggested that Lukaku put in a transfer request hours after that miss. A few days later he joined Everton on loan, much to Mourinho’s frustration. When asked about Lukaku’s departure, the manager sounded less than impressed.
"Romelu is a young boy who likes to speak," he said. "The only thing he didn’t say is why he went to Everton on loan. That’s the only thing he never says. My last contact with him was to tell him exactly that. Why do you never say why you are not here? It’s something he should say, the reason why he’s not with Chelsea and is in Everton. There are things in our lives that we have to keep private but one day he scored and said he hoped Jose was watching. It was like saying: 'Why did he let me go?' And that’s what I’m telling him now: 'Tell the country why you left.’"
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Mourinho speaks very differently of Lukaku these days and has recently made two odd statements about the supposed lack of respect his striker is receiving from the fans. This was news to United supporters, who can’t work out what has prompted Mourinho’s criticism given that Lukaku is a popular figure among the fan base.
Still, as much as Mourinho might want to publicly back Lukaku, he decided he shouldn’t take the penalty against Benfica. First Ander Herrera walked over, whispering in the striker’s ear, leading Lukaku to step back. Seconds later, Daley Blind then approached Herrera, spoke to him, and assumed the penalty-taking duty. It was bizarre.
Thankfully, the Dutchman’s penalty was brilliant, as he calmly drilled the ball into the centre of the goal. Had he missed, it would have been fairly embarrassing for all involved. After the game, Mourinho revealed that he'd told Blind to step up.
"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.
"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.
"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."
A goal would have boosted Lukaku’s confidence - his goalless streak now stands at six games - but Mourinho was perhaps wary of the damage that could have been done to the Belgian had he missed.
With Martial now out of favour, Mourinho has a big decision to make next time United win a penalty. Blind took a very good penalty but he’s not a regular in the starting line-up, with Ashley Young now preferred to him on the left of the back four.
With Paul Pogba set to return from injury soon, he may find himself higher up in the pecking order, but United are hardly spoilt for choice.
Gone are the days of the reliability of Denis Irwin and Eric Cantona, though. The former scored eight of the 10 penalties he took, while the latter put away 14 of the 16 he had. Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 11 from 13 was also impressive.
United have nothing like that sort of consistency in the squad now. Time to get practicing.