Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 5/4
The 2021-22 season is already underway in some countries, while its start draws near in others. In Russia, two rounds of the Premier League have been played, and in Portugal, the Primeira Liga campaign begins this Friday.
On Wednesday, however, Spartak Moscow will welcome Benfica at the Otkritie Arena in the Russian capital, in the first leg of the third round of the Champions League qualifications.
Spartak finished second in the Russian top flight last season, which warrants a place in the third round of these qualifications. They lost out on the top spot to Zenit St. Petersburg who go directly into the Champions League group stage.
Spartak haven’t been very active in the transfer market this summer, but they did get one notable name in through the door. Victor Moses, the former Chelsea, Liverpool and Inter Milan winger, has arrived for a reported fee of €5 million. Attacking midfielder Mikhail Ignatov, 21, has been promoted from the club’s ‘B’ side. Meanwhile, defensive midfielder Artem Timofeev has been sold to Akhmat Grozny for around €800,000, and several youngsters have been shipped out on loan.
The team under the command of coach Rui Vitoria suffered an unexpected 1-0 defeat in their opening match of the season to Rubin in Kazan, having failed to respond to the strike from Rubin left-back Ilya Samoshnikov, but they bounced back with a win by the same result away to Krylya Sovetov, courtesy of a goal scored by Aleksandr Sobolev from the penalty spot.
The three points won thereby have them in 11th place in the league, though it’s obviously way too early to be drawing any kind of conclusion yet.
Defender Pavel Maslov is recovering from a hip inflammation and won’t feature in this match. Winger Quincy Promes missed the Krylya Sovetov clash through a muscular issue, and the Dutch international remains a doubt for Wednesday.
On the other hand, Spartak’s ranks have been boosted by the return of forward Ezequiel Ponce who was away at the Olympics with Argentina, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll be thrown into the mix straight away or given some time to readapt to the club surroundings.
As has been said, the league is yet to start in Portugal and therefore it’s not easy to fathom the form of the team led by coach Jorge Jesus. Their last competitive match was back in May, when they were beaten by Braga in the Taca de Portugal final by 2-0. They finished the 2020-21 season third in the league, behind city rivals Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto.
As for the transfer window, there have been some interesting incoming deals for the team from the Portuguese capital. Striker Roman Yaremchuk has arrived for €17m from Gent after his exploits at Euro 2020 with Ukraine. Attacking midfielder Joao Mario has come in as a free agent from Inter Milan, as has striker Rodrigo Pinho from Maritimo. Benfica also paid €6m to Torino for the services of midfielder Soualiho Meite, and €1.5m to AS Monaco for left-back Gil Dias. They made a strong attempt to sign Harry Wilson from Liverpool, but the Welsh international has joined Fulham instead.
The club have relinquished the services of winger Pedrinho for €18m in favour of Shakhtar Donetsk, and left-back Nuno Tavares has joined Arsenal for €8m. Winger Franco Cervi has moved to Celta Vigo for €4m, and midfielder Caio Lucas to Sharjah FC for €2m.
Right-back Diogo Concalves has returned from injury and should be named in the squad for this match, though maybe not in the starting XI just yet. Andre Almeida, also a player on the right defensive flank, will be out of action for a long time yet with an ACL rupture, which leaves Gilberto as the likeliest to start in the role.
Midfielder Gabriel has been training away from the rest of the squad and isn’t likely to feature, which means Adel Taarabt and Julian Weigl should pair up in the middle of the park. Upfront, Tottenham Hotspur loanee Carlos Vinicius will be hoping to break into the manager’s plans straight away.
The contest between these two teams should be an interesting one, especially over two legs. It’s hard to call at this point, but neither side will want to rush forward too much, always bearing in mind that there is the second leg to be played later.
Therefore, a cautious approach from both is to be expected, unless an early goal throws all calculations out the window. Most bookies see Benfica as the slight favourites, and the Portuguese side do seem better on paper.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 5/4
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