Benfica host Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League Group E encounter as both sides look for their first win in the continental tournament.
Benfica have made a terrific start to their domestic league campaign, maintaining a 100% record after seven games on the count. The Portuguese giants have scored at least two goals in each of their seven league games while overcoming Vitoria Guimaraes over the weekend with a 3-1 scoreline to remain top of the pile.
After opening their Group E account with a pulsating draw with Ukrainian leaders Dynamo Kyiv, their prolific domestic form has not been reflected in the Champions League. The game saw 20 shots being taken, with 12 coming from Benfica, yet neither side could find the back of the net.
The Portuguese side knows the difficulties of finishing among the top two in this group, comprising Barcelona and Bayern Munich. However, a win over the Blaugrana could improve their chances of finishing above the Catalangiants. Dynamo Kyiv also offer a threat, although they are expected to go down against the mighty German side on Wednesday.
Benfica’s visitors, Barcelona, are going through one of their most difficult periods in more than a decade. With financial difficulties marring their chances of signing high-profile players in the market, the current playing squad has provided below-par performances under Ronald Koeman. The loss of Lionel Messi is being felt dearly, but there could be a silver lining.
After being thrashed by Bayern 3-0 at Camp Nou on Matchday 1, the Blaugrana will hope to realise their form against Benfica and steady themselves in the standings. Barcelona remain favourites to finish in the top two of Group E, but if results continue to run away from them, a place in the Europa League might be inevitable.
Koeman did get a reprieve of sorts at the weekend when Barcelona comfortably collected all three points against Levante to push themselves to a decent position on the La Liga table. Barcelona remain unbeaten domestically and have a game in hand.
A win is a must for Barcelona against Benfica to ease some more pressure off Koeman’s shoulders. They have to get going in the group, and despite being second favourites to progress into the next round, they have to find form and maintain it until December.
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Benfica will have defender Lucas Verissimo available after his European ban and should slot straight in the back-three. Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen are expected to play alongside each other at the heart of the Benfica defence.
Adel Taarabt is available for the Champions League as his lengthy domestic ban does not affect European competitions. Haris Seferovic is one who the Portuguese side will miss for this encounter, as he remains out injured at least until the international break. Jorge Jesus looks unlikely to break momentum in this squad and retain most of his domestic starters.
Meaning, Roman Yaremchuk is likely to continue leading the line in attack in Seferovic’s absence. Jesus will retain the shape of his side with a front three and a midfield pivot. The likes of Alejandro Grimaldo and Gilberto will take their customary wing-back positions against Barcelona.
Meanwhile, Pizzi and Everton are pushing to start in wide areas, but like other positions, Jesus remains sceptical to make untimely changes given the importance of this particular clash. This could lead the manager to name Darwin Nunez and Rafa in wide areas in support of Yaremchuk.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Vlachodimos; Verissimo, Otamendi, Vertonghen; Gilberto, Weigl, Mario, Grimaldo; Rafa, Yaremchuk, Nunez
Ronald Koeman still has to function without long-term absentees Martin Braithwaite, Ousmane Dembele, Jordi Alba and Sergio Aguero. Alejandro Balde is also uncertain to play with their respective injuries. Pedri and Sergi Roberto have been passed fit, but Koeman will be wary of starting with them straightaway.
Sergino Dest is likely to continue at left-back in Alba’s absence, while Oscar Mingueza will play on at right-back. Frenkie de Jong should slot straight back into midfield after a domestic ban that saw him miss the win over Levante. Sergio Busquets should be his partner in the centre.
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Ronald Araujo and Gerard Pique should keep their places in central defence, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.
As de Jong comes back in midfield, Gavi is expected to slot on the right side of the attack, with Philippe Coutinho likely to play behind striker Luuk de Jong. Memphis Depay will continue on the left side of the attack as Barcelona aim for their first group win in this edition of the Champions League.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo, Pique, Dest; Frenkie de Jong, Busquets; Gavi, Coutinho, Depay; Luuk de Jong
- Benfica have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven games in the Champions League.
- Benfica are unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions.
- Benfica are unbeaten in their last five matches in the Champions League
- Benfica have not scored in any of their four previous meetings with Barcelona in the Champions League
- Barcelona have kept a clean sheet in their last four games against Benfica in all competitions.
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Depay has instantly impacted this Barcelona side that is accused of lacking ideas in the final third. It will still be a difficult task to endear oneself into the Blaugrana fan base after the departure of Lionel Messi. Still, the Dutchman’s early numbers indicate a healthy rise to his stock.
In his first six league games, three goals and one assist are healthy numbers, but Depay will have to replicate domestic form into Europe. Barcelona have a decent task at hand to qualify for the next stages, and after their morale-sapping defeat to Bayern, they might need players like Depay to step up and boost their charges quickly.
Benfica 1-1 Barcelona
Benfica are yet to register their first win in the Champions League this term, but defensively they are on the right path. Knowing a positive result will help their cause to qualify for the next stage, Jorge Jesus’ side will likely keep it tight at the back for Barcelona’s liking. We are expecting a cagey encounter in Portugal.
Koeman has found it hard to bring attacking fluidity back into the side following Messi’s departure and is still tinkering with his ideas. However, the weekend win over Levante might have steadied the ship for the Dutch manager, but they will still find it hard to break down Benfica’s backline and win the game.