19:45 KO (BST); Wednesday, 18 October; Estádio da Luz (Lisbon, Portugal); BT Sport 2
Things have not gone to plan for Benfica in this season’s Champions League. The Portuguese outfit would have been favourites to qualify for the knockout rounds behind Manchester United in a relatively straightforward group. Two consecutive defeats, including a 5-0 humbling away at Basel, have put a spanner in the works. They now need a victory to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Manchester United’s reintroduction to the Champions League has been relatively comfortable. They have shown an ability to put away the lesser teams with a minimum of fuss. They will relish the prospect of facing a Benfica side bereft of confidence in Europe and expect to take one more step towards the knockout stages.
Last Time Out
Olhanense 0-1 BENFICA (Taca de Portugal)
There was a fast and furious start to the game with the home side nearly opening the scoring within two minutes. Benfica managed to muster a response soon after as forward Gabriel Barbosa, on loan from Inter, scored with a cheeky lob over the keeper.
Given the chances they had, Benfica should have won the game by a larger margin. Their inability to be clinical allowed their third division opponents stay in the game. The performance was not befitting of last season’s double-winning team.
A flurry of transfer activity in the summer may have drastically changed the makeup of the team but Benfica have always been able to adapt. They have struggled to do so this season and this scrappy win will not have done much to boost morale ahead of a must-win game.
Liverpool 0-0 MANCHESTER UNITED (Premier League)
After an impressive start to the season which saw them scoring seemingly at will, Jose Mourinho retreated into his comfort zone: prioritising defence over attack. When they had possession, the Red Devils struggled to keep the ball and frontman Romelu Lukaku was left isolated, resulting in very few chances for the Manchester club.
On Saturday’s showing, then, Manchester United came to Anfield for a point and defended resolutely against a pressing Liverpool team to get it. If they were hoping to hit Liverpool on the break, it did not materialise.
Fans will hope that matches like this are an anomaly and will want a return to the direct, attacking football they have been used to this season.
A sending off against Basel for right-back Andre Almeida leaves Benfica short of experienced cover. Manager Rui Vitória might be forced to look to the B team for reinforcements.
Manchester United Lineup
Manchester United will still be without midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini. Eric Bailly might not be risked in the group stages and may be reserved for Premier League matches instead.
Key Battle: Luisão vs Romelu Lukaku
Veteran defender Luisão will have to use all his years of experience to deal with the threat of Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku will be keen to make up for the disappointment of not scoring against Liverpool.
Luisão’s colleagues have to play their part in cutting out the supply to Lukaku as well but the Brazilian will still need to be at his best when marking Lukaku at set pieces, a key feature of Manchester United’s attack this season.
Benfica’s old boys
In his short time with Manchester United, Nemanja Matic has proven his value with dominating performances that have allowed his more creative teammates to push on and do the damage to opponents. He will be keen to make another good impression against his old club.
The same goes for Victor Lindelof. Although he only had a late cameo at Anfield, Lindelof has been handed Champions League starts as a chance to impress the manager. He could use the comfort and familiarity of the Estadio de Luz to put in a great shift and further his chances of a domestic league start.
Benfica’s season has been poor by their standards. They still sit third in the domestic league and are playing relatively well but, for all their efforts, the team have not gelled well enough to be a significant threat to their opponents.
They need to work out the kinks in their game if they want to turn the game on Manchester United. Aside from player sales, Champions League success is the other major driver in helping the club reduce their debt. Failure to qualify for the later stages will definitely be felt in the club’s finance department and may cause a trickle-down effect.
Will Jose Mourinho utilise his bench?
Jose Mourinho is a ‘results first’ manager who will put in his strongest squad to get the win. If his team can make quick work of Benfica, perhaps Mourinho could be convinced to ring in the changes and give key players some rest in the second half.
A chance to rest Matic, Lukaku and Herrera would be a welcome boost for the team, keeping them fresh for a difficult game away to Huddersfield on Saturday.
PREDICTION: Benfica 0-3 Manchester United
Benfica will be highly motivated in this game. If Manchester United score an early goal, Benfica would be forced to push up in search of an equaliser. This plays right into United’s hands, with their ability to launch rapid counter-attacks.
The likes of Nemanja Matic, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku might prove too much for Benfica. Rashford’s liveliness and Ashley Young’s crosses could cause trouble down Benfica’s right and Lukaku would be the main beneficiary.
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