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Monday, 03 December 2012 22:09

Champions League Preview

Benfica face decisive trip to Catalonia

The final round of Champions League group stage fixtures sees Porto and Benfica travel abroad for encounters of varying importance, whilst already-eliminated Braga remain at home for a dead rubber. Ben Shave previews all three games. 



Barcelona vs Benfica

Benfica’s Champions League campaign got off to a frustrating start, before entering into sync with their Liga form and seeing a distinct upturn in performance levels. Unfortunately for the Eagles, taking just one point from their first three matches may well catch up with them at the death, as they travel to Barcelona knowing that they must match Celtic’s result at home to Spartak Moscow if they are to progress to the knockout phase.

When the draw was made, supporters and club insiders alike would undoubtedly have breathed a tentative sigh of relief. For despite all the plaudits Celtic have received for their campaign, a more clinical display would have conceivably seen Benfica leave Parkhead with all three points. That stalemate, combined with the defensively deficient defeat in Moscow, has removed the Eagles’ fate from their control.

Of course, Barcelona’s current form makes the task that much more intimidating. The Catalan club are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, having rebounded from their 2-1 loss at Celtic on match day four in impressive fashion. Injury concerns over Jordi Alba and Andrés Iniesta, as well as the confirmed absences of Dani Alves and Alexis Sánchez, are positive news for Jorge Jesus, but not enough to tip the balance in his side’s favour.

Indeed, the Benfica coach has worries of his own, having been without Pablo Aimar, Carlos Martins, Enzo Pérez and Eduardo Salvio for Sunday’s training session. The first two would have been unlikely to feature as starters at the Camp Nou, but the loss of the terrier-like Pérez and dynamic Salvio would be keenly felt on Wednesday night.

Of course, events in Spain only form one half of the equation. Speaking to Rádio Renascença, Spartak Moscow midfielder Ari stated that his side “have an obligation to go there [Glasgow] and get a good result.” Benfica fans will be hoping his words hold true.

Paris Saint-Germain vs FC Porto

On Tuesday, Porto travel to Paris for an encounter that will decide top spot in Group G. Both the Dragões and their opponents have long since sealed their places in the knockout rounds, and what could potentially have been a blockbuster has therefore become a mildly enticing encounter between two top sides going through a slight dip in form.

Of the two, PSG’s slump is certainly more pronounced than Porto’s. Fourth in Ligue 1 and five points back from leaders Lyon, coach Carlo Ancelotti’s inability to conjure up the type of attacking style his squad lists suggests is possible has seen the Italian venture into dangerous territory, at least if the French press are to be believed.

Fortunately for the veteran Italian, the likes of Sirigu, Verratti and Ibrahimovic are all recovered from injuries, with the first two having missed a weekend defeat at the hands of Nice. Porto are also coming off a loss in the Taça at Braga, but Vítor Pereira has made just one change to his squad, with Helton replacing young Kadú. Centre back Maicon remains unavailable.

A quick glance at the current Champions League tables suggests that there may, in truth, not be a great deal of advantage to be gleaned from top spot, though Porto will undoubtedly want to steer clear of Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund, to name three. Indeed, as club President Pinto da Costa declared before jetting off to Paris (his first trip since undergoing heart surgery earlier this year), putting on a good show for the numerous Parisian Portistas expected at the Parque des Princes will be of more importance to the Dragões.


Braga vs Galatasaray

Braga’s competitive European campaign ended in Romania a fortnight ago, but having received a boost in the form of a Taça de Portugal fifth round victory over Porto on Friday, Os Arsenalistas’ season is back on track. Galatasaray’s visit may afford José Peseiro an opportunity to give his thin first-team squad a rest, although the coach has not shown himself to be a great rotator during his short time at the Quarry.

After just over five weeks on the sidelines, centre back Paulo Vinícius is fit again and could be in line for a start, with Douglão serving a suspension after his expulsion during the loss at Cluj. Peseiro has no other significant injury concerns.

Although Braga have nothing to play for (though President António Salvador would surely welcome the financial reward that another Champions League victory would bring), Galatasaray are battling Cluj for second spot, and will undoubtedly be fully motivated. For Braga, stringing together their first two-match winning sequence since October is the priority.

For full coverage of this week’s Champions League games involving Portuguese sides, be sure to visit PortuGOAL.net.

Ben Shave

Comments (6)
Point taken Chris
6 Friday, 07 December 2012 18:35
I was still a little pissed when i made the comment, as it was not long after my beloved Eagles crashed out. I know you genuinely meant well. I still stand by the fact though that it was a valiant effort from the boys to qualify against such a tough opponent (even their second string players are all quality), we dominated the play and stopped Barca scoring at home for the first time in donkeys years. Is it disapointing we crashed out of a group we should've definitely qualified from? Yes of course. But to go out like that, giving everything and almost doing it, still makes me proud. Barca never get dominated at home, not ever!

I say it again, we had one poor result: losing in Moscow...but the result that really hurt us most was Barca incredibly losing against a pretty average Celtic team. Still hard to believe that result really. But in our head to head matches against Celtic, it was obvious how much better we are than them. I say it again, sometimes you don't get what you deserve...this is life and this is futebol!

As for Cardozo, of course i was pissed that he didn't start...he's the best forward in Portugal (not just at SLB)...and even though i can see the reasoning that JJ wanted more pace up front, i still think we woulda scored one of those first half chances had he been there. Anyway while it would be nice to win the Europa League, and I think we can, i would still much prefer to win the Liga title, which I think will go right down to the wire...so there will be plenty of more comments coming up from us this season amigo...keep em coming! Cheers...
Andre....
5 Thursday, 06 December 2012 15:08
Honestly, I will not even address your Porto comments anymore, because the rebuttal to that question is self-explanatory.


What I do not understand Andre, is first of all, how you can argue that coming in 3rd place and therefore not going through to knockouts in the Champions League is somehow BETTER than coming in 2nd and qualifying for the next stage.


I keep reading these ludicrous arguments that Porto basically put on a sh*t show and Benfica were the 2nd reincarnation of Jesus Christ when the cold hard facts tell a very different story.


It's like comparing 2 salesmen. The first salesman wines and dines his clients, he takes them to luxurious restaurants, yet he gets no sales. The second salesman doesn't waste time schmoozing, he is very capable and to the point and is the leading salesman in his region.


According to your logic, salesman number 1 is the guy to go with. This makes absolutely zero sense.


Listen, I get it. When my teams underperform, I too can get wound up and defend it against people I think are just being jerks and rubbing it in. But you know me better than that. I am genuinely disappointed that Benfica didn't go through.


But the answer is not to just be content with it and say, "well, it was a good effort". The answer is to critically analyze what went wrong. And if we do that, the repeated answer we find to that is that JJ is just not the man for the job.


Can you seriously defend his decision to leave Cardozo on the bench in a must-win game? Or the decision to start Malgarejo in ANY game? Frankly, I find it a bit warped that you seem to be upset with me for voicing my concerns over some very hard truths, yet you seem to show no such anger towards JJ. I don't get it.


I am most certainly not rubbing salt in the wound. I have been just as, if not more critical of Porto when they deserved it, Braga when they lost the plot (another team that underachieved in the CL), and Sporting.


I would like to see Benfica go far and even win it all in the Europa Liga, but honestly, I won't get my hopes up. I generally agree with your argument that stability is key for coaches and teams, but not in this case, where your coach is Benjamin Button and keeps de-evolving instead of moving forwards.


To my other colleagues of this site who are Benfas, I genuinely empathize with you all, but the team is good enough to win trophies. Hopefully your team and mine (FCP) make it an interesting Liga challenge for the title, and both create a little magic on the European stage.


Cheers.
Sorry Chris
4 Thursday, 06 December 2012 00:49
But that does sound like salt rubbing to me. But it's ok, we put in a spirited performance away against the best team in Europe. Porto lost against a team in 4th place in the French league, to lose first place in a weak group...and only finished ahead of Dynamo Kiev...wow huge deal huh? Not!
Kris Commons was right
3 Wednesday, 05 December 2012 21:36
Sorry Benfas, I'm not here to rub salt in the wound. But the reality is, Benfica is to blame for not making it to the knockouts.

If they had only won in Spartak, which is frankly not a big ask of the team, they would have been through. I'm upset. And I'm not even a Benfica fan! You guys should be furious.

Honestly, it's pretty disgusting how JJ has STILL, in a game of necessity, not started Cardozo. Shocking quite frankly. But wait, his tactical genius has called for.... wait for it..... Luisao and Garay to play as strikers in the final embers of the game!

What a joke.

Well, at least there's still the Liga Europa.
Kris Commons?
2 Tuesday, 04 December 2012 18:04
Bravo Ben and Tom - whoever made the call to post that rather inflammatory comment by Kris Commons.

Maybe someone should have pulled master Commons aside to give him an idea of just why Celtic and Rangers - the two main actors in Champions League from that crap Scottish League - get no respect in "big boy tournaments".

Someone should have pointed out to master Commons that Celtics history in Champions League (beginning in 2003/04) is a joke - getting out of group stage twice, and for the most part, embarassing themselves on the big stage.

Ah yes, the Scottish contingent who revel in "brave defending" - what a joke that league is.

As for master Commons, pretty heady words from guy who never played in the Premier League in England, and who scurried over to Scotland when he couldn't cut it with the big boys.

I hope Spartak crush Celtic.
Must wins
1 Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:19
Aimar hasn't played and Martins shouldn't be anywhere near the field, but losing Enzo and Salvio will hurt our chances at Camp Nou.
Yes, having Barca sit world class players will help, but the youngsters will be fighting hard to show their wares. Messi is also chasing the scoring title.
I'm most upset that we find ourselves in this position. But not all is lost, we're capable of netting the win. We will need to come up big, which we haven't always been able to do in big spots. Very much needed because I don't see Celtic losing.

Porto really has a wonderful opportunity. PSG has great talent but Ancelotti has been unable to get them to play as a team. A lot of egos working for themselves.

Ugh Braga. Horrible waste of an opportunity.

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