Russian giants are being snapped from their winter dream as they travel to Portugal for the UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Benfica at the Stadium of Light.
The Eagles are not in the best place at the moment as they have suffered a defeat to FC Porto in the Portuguese O Classico on Friday, which could have a detrimental effect to team spirit ahead of the UEFA Champions League game. Benfica lost the game 2-1 at home ground, as Porto inflicted the first blow to Benfica after a series of 11 consecutive wins and thirteen unbeaten games, since their Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid. December and January have been pretty successful for Rui Vitoria’s men who have been pretty convincing in their wins recently. The Eagles have scored 19 goals in their last five matches, which only shows the team is in great shape. The most recent loss to Porto has allowed Sporting to go three points clear in front of Rui Vitoria’s me who will have to recover quickly for the visit from Zenit and their former teammates, Javi Garcia, Ezequiel Garaz, Vitsel and Hulk. The two teams met in the same stage of the competition four years ago, when Benfica went for a 4-3 aggregate win.
Benfica will have to do without their centre back Luisao who has suffered a forearm fracture in November.
In addition, another defender Lisandro Lopez will have to sit through the game at the Stadium of Light. The Centre back has picked up a muscle injury at the beginning of February.
The Russian champions haven had a competitive game since their final group stage clash in December against Gent. However, Zenit did arrange winter training camps in Portugal and Qatar in order to prepare for Benfica clash. They played five friendly matches during January and February, winning all five of them and the last one last week against Orebro 2-1. Aware of the lack of competitive football, Zenit are still confident their winter sleep will not affect their performance against the Portugal opposition. Andre Villas-Boas want his team to record a positive result and take the game back to St Petersburg and Petrovsky stadium. Zenit finished top of Group H, having won their first five matches to reach the knock-out stage. The Portuguese coach will be hoping to use his experience and knowledge to outwit the Eagles and get back to Russia with a positive score. Boas faced Benfica three times during his times in charge of Academica Coimbra and four-times with their arch-rivals Porto.
Zenit have been active in January having bolstered their ranks with Artur Yusupov, Aleksandar Kokorin and Yuri Zhirkov, who could all have a part in Tuesday’s duel.
Viktor Faizulin is the only one unavailable as the Zenit centre midfielder is still out following his knee operation back in September.
Key Factors to Consider
- Benfica haven’t played the UEFA Champions League knockout stage since 2011-12
- The Eagles won 12 consecutive games before their loss to Porto at the weekend
- Rui Vitoria’s men have scored 19 goals in their last 5 matches
- Zenit haven’t played a competitive game since December
- Boas’ team won three of the four meetings with Benfica
Benfica will be eager to bounce back from their disappointing loss to Porto last time out. Zenit have been playing friendlies during winter, but Boas’ charges haven’t had a competitive game since December and it could be a key factor in this game.
Verdict: Home win