Benfica travel east with one-goal advantage from the first leg against Zenit, who will be looking to kick start their campaign now that football is back in Russia.
The Russian giants paid the price for the lack of competitive football in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League knockouts at Benfica. Villas-Boas’ men have still put in a solid performance and held well until the very end of the game, when Jonas struck in the dying moments to give Benfica a valuable lead. The narrow defeat in the first leg was Zenit’s first competitive match in more than two months and Zenitchiki are still to get back to form now that domestic action is back under way. Having needed extra time to go past Kuban in the quarter-finals of the Russian Cup, Zenit were held to a goalless draw at FC Krasnodar in the first Premier League outing in 2016. The 0-0 stalemate left them fifth in the table, nine points behind leaders of the Russian championship CSKA Moscow. The five-time Russian champions will lack no motivation though, as they prepare to play host to the Portuguese side. Andre Villas-Boas has already said that reaching the quarter-finals is the team’s “dream” and there is no doubt that Zenit players will do everything they can to achieve it.
Victor Faizulin is still recovering from his knee operation and will be unavailable as his return is not expect until May.
Hosts will have to do without Javi Garcia and Domenico Criscito, who have both suspended for the occasion.
The Eagles fly far to the east on the back of the valuable 1-0 win at great rivals Sporting last time out thanks to a goal from Mitroglu, who struck early in the game to earn his team a huge win. Since their loss to FC Porto midway through February, Benfica went on to notch four straight wins, one against Zenit in the Champions League and other three in the league. The latest win over Sporting has seen Rui Vitoria’s team go two points clear in front of Sporting at the top of the standings with nine more rounds to go. Benfica travel to Russia having won 15 of their last 16 matches in all competitions and with firm belief they will be able to edge through to the quarter-finals of the competition. Visitors will hope Jonas will help them achieve their goal as the scorer of the only goal that separates Benfica and Zenit is playing in excellent form. The 31-year-old striker has scored 26 goals in 24 league appearances for Benfica this season, while he also added two goals and two assists in the UEFA Champions League. Four goals in last four matches speak volumes of his ability and current form.
Rui Vitoria is having plenty of selection worries ahead of the game in Russia as Luisao, Lisandro Lopez and goalkepper Julio Cesar are all missing the trip due to their respective injuries.
What is more, Andre Almeida and Jardel are suspended for the affair and will be forced to remain in Portugal.
Key Factors to Consider
- First leg vs Benfica was Zenit’s first match in two months
- Benfica have notched 4 wins in a row since their win over Russian giants
- The Eagles have lost won 15 of their last 16 matches in all competitions
- Zenit have lost only one in their last 15 home fixtures
- Benfica won their last nine games on the road
Despite the one-goal lead, Benfica cannot afford to drop their guard in Russia. Zenit are slowly picking up their form after a long winter break and will be keen on extending their positive home record with a win that would also help the team realise their Champions League dream. We expect a close-knit contest and goals could be the best option in this match.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals