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Monday, 19 November 2012 19:39

Benfica and Braga battle for UCL survival

Porto hope to extend unbeaten record

This week’s Champions League schedule includes decisive encounters for Benfica and Braga, both of whom need victories (against Celtic and Cluj respectively) to extend their stay in Europe’s elite competition. On Wednesday, Porto host Dinamo Zagreb at the Dragão. Ben Shave previews the three matches. 

Benfica vs Celtic

Celtic’s historic ties to the Portuguese capital are well-known, and coach Neil Lennon has been complimentary of his hosts in the run-up to tomorrow’s crunch Group G encounter. Speaking from Celtic’s base in Cascais, Lennon singled out Melgarejo, Matic and Lima for particular praise, and forecast another difficult night for his side.

Benfica will certainly be hoping so. Although a 0-0 draw and a Barcelona victory at Spartak Moscow would technically keep the Eagles alive in the race for the last sixteen, Jorge Jesus will surely be approaching this match as if victory is the only option – all the more so given that Benfica travel to the Camp Nou next month.

Jesus’ side have coped well with a spate of injuries and the suspension of Luisão this season, matching Porto stride for stride in the Liga, and managing to remain in the frame for the next phase of the Champions League. Victory at the Luz will not see them regain them control of their fate, with Celtic hosting Spartak on December 5th, but it will at least stave off any potential disappointment.

Both sides warmed up at the weekend with routine victories, and managed to avoid any further injuries - though Lennon admitted that one of Scott Brown, Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper would not be fit to start at the Luz. Meanwhile, Benfica welcomed Ezequiel Garay, Maxi Pereira, Enzo Pérez and Carlos Martins back to full training on Monday, with Pablo Aimar now the sole question mark for Jorge Jesus to contend with. The Eagles have now kept five clean sheets in a row, and the reprising of Luisão and Garay’s central defensive partnership surely only bolster their chances of a sixth. Jesus praised his captain’s contribution against Moreirense in the Taça, and although he described tomorrow’s game as “different”, it is hard to envisage the Brazilian anywhere other than alongside Garay.

On a crucial night for his club, Óscar Cardozo will be hoping to avoid the super-sub role – and in his pre-match press conference, Jesus admitted that he was “leaning towards” fielding both the Paraguayan and Lima up front, in “an all or nothing game”.

Likely Benfica XI: Artur; Maxi Pereira, Luisão, Garay, Melgarejo; Matic, Enzo Pérez, Salvio, Gaitán; Lima, Cardozo.

CFR Cluj vs Braga

Cluj coach Paulo Sérgio welcomes three familiar faces to Romania, with Nuno André Coelho, Baiano and Custódio all hoping to get one over on their former coach, who replaced Ioan Andone earlier this season. Defeat at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu would spell the end of Braga’s Champions League campaign, and any friendships will undoubtedly be put aside for the duration of the 90 minutes.

In truth, the Arsenalistas ought to have already sealed their place in the last sixteen. Defensive calamities have seen José Peseiro’s side squander home victories against Cluj and Manchester United already during this group stage, but the 100% record held by the Red Devils means that Galatasaray, Cluj and Braga are all still in the hunt for second place in Group H, with two matches remaining.

Peseiro’s side rebounded from two consecutive losses at the hands of United and Sporting with a 3-1 win at Pampilhosa in the Taça this past weekend, and it will be interesting to see whether goalkeeper Beto, who did not make the trip after a string of errors for both club and country, will reclaim his number one spot from the veteran Quim. Elsewhere, Paulo Vinícius and Paulo César have remained in Portugal nursing injuries.

Likely Braga XI: Beto; Leandro Salino, Nuno André Coelho, Douglão, Elderson; Custódio, Hugo Viana; Alan, Rúben Micael, Rúben Amorim; Éder.

Porto vs Dinamo Zagreb

The only one of the Portuguese trio to have already sealed their place in the knockout rounds, Porto welcome Dinamo Zagreb to the Dragão hoping to extend their unbeaten run to seventeen games this season, and 24 overall. Coach Vítor Pereira has had to deal with a number of key injuries in recent weeks, and the returns of Alex Sandro and Fernando to training on Monday will have been welcome.

Porto’s official website confirmed that news, but made no mention of centre back Maicon, who will not feature in Wednesday’s game – which is, after all, a dead rubber. Young Abdoulaye will likely keep his place alongside Otamendi, and Eliaquim Mangala is also set to continue his deputising duties at left back.

With a trip to Braga on the menu for the weekend, Pereira will surely continue to rotate his line-up, though perhaps not to the extent that he did so at Nacional in Saturday’s 3-0 Taça victory. The Dragões are in good shape on all fronts, and the key on Wednesday will be avoiding any significant setbacks.

Likely Porto XI: Helton; Miguel Lopes, Otamendi, Abdoulaye, Mangala; Defour, Lucho González, João Moutinho; Varela, Martínez, James Rodríguez.

For full coverage of this week’s Champions League fixtures involving Portuguese sides, be sure to visit PortuGOAL, and follow us on Twitter: @portugoaldotnet and @benshave.

Ben Shave

Comments (6)
Bias? Me?
6 Wednesday, 21 November 2012 18:06

I think I gave the nod to both Cardozo and Jackson as the 2 best right now. Cardozo has been plying his trade longer, but Jackson is much more physically gifted. I think I made an impartial choice there, because if we're honest, Jackson has really been incredible.

It is not easy to break into the Porto team at all, much less be such an integral part of it 3 months into your first season. So, I gave them a tie, because as you say, it is very tight between them.

As for GK, Helton was not my top choice, Patricio (Sporting) was. And I can understand your belief that he can produce some frangos, but overall, he's been consistent and kept Sporting which has a pretty poor defence, in games over the last 3-4 seasons.

A lot of their late Europa League run last year was down to his brilliance.

Artur has a much more solid defence in front of him, with the exception of Malgarejo of course, and he is still very good, but best shot stopper in Europe? Not for my money. He is "clutch", no doubt about it, but there are more facets to Patricio's game.

I placed Helton above Artur based on accomplishment and consistency. I think he deserves that nod. But overall I gave it to Patricio.

So, all in all, I don't think I was biased at all. Especially since so many Benfas on this site are colour-blinded to only seeing red. In fact, the most frequent posters here (aside from me), are all Benfas! I think I am quite fair when we put that in context.

We'll have to discuss further over a Super Bock in January.

Chris .. I think Patricio is the worst out of those 4...
5 Wednesday, 21 November 2012 17:16
He has moments of brilliance but is brutal on crosses and has weak hands that every once in a while let a Frango slip through them..

Helton is good overall but isn't exceptional at any one thing.. he is more a wiley coyote type.. and uses his positioning to best effect.

Artur is simply the best shot stopper in Europe.. he makes some incredible saves and his positioning is excellent also.. he is decent in the air.. but that is probably his biggest weakness.. as we saw in yesterdays game against Celtic.. but the fact is there should've been someone covering that striker.. and someone pushing the marker that was there to block Artur.. most of the times he gets a hand to aerial balls.. and that is all you can ask for.. the defence has to do their job.. especially considering he saves their bacon game in and game out. He is also the most consistent of all the keepers.

Quim is a little long in the tooth now.. but is positionally sound.. which makes up for his un-athleticism.. he too is very consistent.. and with a good defence around him he can do great things.. although he will never pull miracle saves out of his hat like some of the others can.

That is my take.. on the subject..

Funny how you chose.. two Porto players as the best.. and most others picked two Benfiquistas.. you wouldn't be biased now would you...lol

I personally think the battle was much tighter between Cardozo and Martinez.. than it was for the GK's.. Martinez has accomplished some great things so far.. but we would like to see him over a season or two.. to really get a grasp of his worth.
4 Tuesday, 20 November 2012 14:41
Ok, sorry for the sensationalist subject line, I just wanted some attention. Orlando asked me a question last week, and I produced a well-thought out (in my opinion) rebuttal. But, I wanted to see what other portugoalers thought, so here it is re-posted:

Ah, the age-old adage of the goalkeeper.

Well, I know that the discussions have centered around Patricio and Artur. As a Portista I also have to point out that Helton has matured nicely and has outgrown some of the stupid mental lapses he had earlier in his career.

So, of the big 3, I will say this:

Helton: most consistent. With 200+ games and multiple Liga trophies and a European trophy, he is clearly most consistent. He is not as athletic as Patricio or Artur, and probably has slightly lesser reflexes than them as well. But where he really excels are command of the defence in front of him, ball positioning/passing is excellent (a few FCP goals start from a Helton kick), and his ability to decide which shots he will grab and which he will parry away. He makes it difficult for goal-poachers to pick up rebounds.

Artur: best reflexes, probably quickest to throw himself into a dangerous situation, committed to winning corners. Where I fault Artur are the areas which are Helton's strong suits. Not the best distributer of the ball, and his grab/parry decisions are aweful. So many times you see him parry a shot right back out front again, instead of deflecting wide. I also don't think his positional sense is the greatest.

Patricio: Big, athletic and perhaps most importantly, has a great positional sense. I often wonder how he manages to look so graceful or calm in making some of the saves he makes. He has great reflexes, maybe a touch behind Artur, but he more than makes up for it in position and timing. He uses his size to his advantage and is a composed stopper at all times. Good ball passing as well, though not as good as Helton, and also great at deciding whether to parry/grab a shot.

Quim: to me, Quim is like a Volvo (hear me out). It may not be as fast as a BMW, as flashy as a Mercedes, or as expensive as an Audi, but it does all of these things really well. In other words, he is not as good or better as the others in any one area, but he combines everything just a bit better. Like a Volvo, he's a safe choice as well. I think before his injuries, the case could be made that he was top 2 in Portugal.

Marcelo Boeck: a back-up keeper, I know, but super-impressive at Maritimo 2 seasons ago and always ready for Sporting. Great reflexes and very stretchy, he is difficult to shoot or cross against as he is great at following the ball. Weakness is the same as Artur in terms of often parrying the ball out back out in front of him, providing a free meal for poachers.

An honourable mention to Nilson who was not always recognized and who left for the middle east this year, but who was a tower of power for many years at Guimaraes.

So for me it is:

1. Patricio
2. Helton
3. Artur
4. Quim

I know I may offend some Benfas, but I feel that Helton's longer term and greater success should be credited to him. It's not just about reflexes.

Here we go!!!
3 Tuesday, 20 November 2012 13:06
Huge match tonight, and our CL future all rests on the result tonight. The optimist in me thinks that we can still qualify from this group (providing Barca seal top spot by winning in Moscow)...but the realist in me thinks that even if we win tonight, Celtic are still the big favourites given that they finish at home to Spartak (who may be out of Europe altogether by that point). One step at a time though is always the best approach to make.

What I will say is this: I just hope that whatever happens in the end, that tonight we go prove without any doubt that we are a better team then Celtic by beating them. Of course if we do, then our head-to-head record against them will be superiour, giving us a chance. Whether it will be enough, only time will tell. Celtic have already proved they are a good team and are no push-overs in the slightest, and there's no getting away from the fact that this was a tough group for all 4 teams. But let's just make sure we beat them tonight and give ourselves a chance to qualify, and I fully expect us to.

The 4 players being fit to play is a bonus, even though I would've still expected us to win even if they were not. If it were up to me...I'd definitely go with 4-4-2 and a total offensive tactic. Celtic know a draw will be a great result for them so will likely come to defend tonight...so it's imperative we go all out attack and play with a high intensity right from the word go.

I would personally go with Matic and Cesar in the middle, Enzo on the left and Salvio on the right...with Cardozo and Lima up front. We have to make sure we don't give them unnecessary free-kicks, as that is their big strength...the typically British approach of crosses and headers! But if we can provide good service to the front two, I expect us to get a few goals tonight. Whatever happens in the end, let's just make sure we give a performance to make all our fans proud. Forca Sempre!!!!
2 Tuesday, 20 November 2012 01:39
some thoughts
1 Monday, 19 November 2012 22:46
I still feel that Braga should advance. If not it will be a wasted opportunity. They have no business not, in this group.

Porto has a great opportunity to finish first and stear clear of tough matchups.
I do believe that if Porto finish 1st and Real 2nd in their groups, the UEFA bouncing balls will make sure they find each other.

Ah my Gloriozo. This has been an awful CL campaign. We played awful in Scotland and Russia. A huge win is a must. Sadly this will leave us prone at the back.
I agree that the lineup stated is the most likely. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if Bruno was out wide, once again out of position.
Ugh will be cause of at least one goal and multiple chances.
This one will be on the big screen at the office.
Forca Benfica!!!

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