2nd October 2012
Portuguese giants Benfica take on mighty Barcelona at a sold out Estadio da Luz in what should be the most interesting match of Tuesday’s Champions League programme. The Eagles have already proved they can mix it up even with the best of them, and they can now further improve their reputation with a good showing against the La Liga leaders.
Benfica spent much of the last decade trailing arch rivals Porto on domestic stage and largely struggling in Europe, but everything changed with the arrival of coach Jorge Jesus. Backed by the club board, the experienced coach built a very strong side that helped the club return to old glory days. While doing well to win the league title in 2009/2010 and several other domestic trophies, the Eagles also managed to prove their worth in Europe, reaching Europa League semis and Champions League quarter-finals over the last two seasons. The squad did undergo some changes in the summer, with Javi Garcia and Axel Witsel leaving, but with Eduardo Salvio and Enzo Perez returning to Estadio da Luz, Jorge Jesus should have no problems filling up the gaps. Following the goalless draw at Celtic Park, Benfica now aim to record their first win of the campaign and the fact that a team like Barcelona will be on the other side is unlikely to make the hosts alter their attack-minded approach. Oscar Cardozo and Luisao are both unavailable, but Pablo Aimar should start after recovering from injury.
Barcelona seem to have been boosted by the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid, given they went on to win next five games in all competitions, but it is important to note the Catalans were far from impressive in the process. After coming from a goal behind to beat Spartak Moscow at the start of the Champions League campaign, Tito Vilanova’s side needed three second-half goals to beat Sevilla at the weekend, having been two goals down after 50 minutes. With Pique and Puyol struggling with injury, the back line has been conceding way too many goals this term, letting in 11 goals in 9 competitive games. The attacking department, nonetheless, is in full working order, so there is every chance we will see a high-scoring match in Portugal. The interesting thing is that Barcelona have never beaten Benfica away, but both times they faced the Eagles in the Champions League, they went on to lift the trophy. The Catalans will have Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Adriano Correia back to the side, but Gerard Pique and Andreu Fontas remain sidelined.
Having outplayed both Manchester United and Chelsea last term, Benfica can be trusted to produce another impressive attacking performance in front of their own fans, and with Barcelona likely to respond in the same manner, my advice is to back both teams to score.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best Odds: 8/11