A vital Group G fixture headlines Match Day 3 of the UEFA Champions League as Benfica tangles with mighty Barcelona. The Portuguese side opened their European account with a goalless draw with Celtic, while Barcelona managed a 3-2 result over Spartak Moscow.
Both sides have been terrific in their respective domestic leagues. Benfica are top of the table in Portugal, going undefeated in five matches, while Barcelona are also top of the table in La Liga, sporting a perfect record in domestic action.
The Glorioso like to use a 4-1-3-2 formation, using a classic sweeper, instead of a holding midfielder. This formation is an attacking formation as the midfielders along the flank can be used as wingers, or move towards the middle, giving support to the strikers. Expect Paraguayan International Oscar Cardozo and Spanish newcomer Rodrigo to start, up front for Benfica. The pair have combined for seven goals in Primeira Liga, with Cardozo leading the club with 4 strikes. Rodrigo has a bit more creative flair, while Cardozo is the finisher.
South Americans take care of the midfield, with Bruno Cesar being the most gifted. The Brazilian International is a superb playmaker who can make dazzling runs along the left flank. Adept with either foot, Cesar is a dynamic pulsating figure that will play a major impact in the match. Expect Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio to start alongside Cesar. The two Argentines aren’t as flashy as Cesar, but are efficient and steady.
Nemanja Matic plays the role of sweeper. The Croatian International can move up and join the attack, but is better suited as a holding midfielder or a fifth defender. Not the swiftest player, Matic could have some difficulties dealing with the swarming Barcelona charge.
The back four is captained by Maxi Pereira. The Uruguayan International is a solid right back, who does have a tendency of moving forward, when the opportunity arises. Expect Jardal and Ezequiel Garay to start as central defenders while Lorenzo Melgarejo should be on the sheet as a left back.
Brazilian International Artur Moraes is an excellent keeper who will be under constant pressure from Barcelona. Moraes will have to be on top of his game, for Benfica to find success.
Mighty Barcelona are one of, if not the favourites to hoist the European Cup for a fifth time. However, they were somewhat wonky in their victory over Spartak Moscow and will need to have a sharper performance against a stern Benfica side.
There is no better striker on the planet than Lionel Messi. What is there to say about the little Argentine, who is simply magical on the pitch. With 10 goals in all competitions, including a brace against Spartak Moscow, Messi is once again making a case to be called best player in the world.
Joining Messi up front are a host of options. David Villa returns after missing most of last season with a horrific knee injury, and has already provided three goals for the Blaugaurna. Pedro could see time on the pitch as a winger. Cristian Tello may also be on the sheet as a winger. Chilean International Alexis brings pace, but his lack of finish may have him seeing more time on the bench, than on the field.
With Andres Iniesta battling injury woes, the midfield might have a different look. Sergio Busquets has been seeing more time as an attacking midfielder, and could be an option in that spot. Cesc Fabregas has been used on the right side in place of Iniesta but could be moved to the centre of the pitch if necessary. The incomparable Xavi is the captain of the midfield and is still one of the best players in the world. No one controls the tempo of the match better than the Barcelona captain. One less option for Barcelona is that Thiago will be missing in action, thanks to a knee knock he suffered on the weekend.
The back four has been through some changes throughout the season. Right back Dani Alves should be on the team sheet for Tito Vilanova’s squad. Javier Mascherano should be starting in a central defender slot. The stern Gerard Pique will use his length to thwart the opposition. Left back is a concern for Barcelona. Adriano, Carlos Puyol and Jordi Alba have all seen time at that position. Alba is the most attack minded, Puyol is the most physical, Adriano is the most versatile.
Victor Valdes should be the starting keeper. While not considered the best at his position, Valdes is a quality ball stopper who is under-appreciated in the media, but respected by teammates.
This should be an excellent match. Estadio da Luz will be a cauldron of noise and is a very difficult place to play. However Barcelona just have too much quality to be held back. It will be close, but I say Barcelona comes out of Lisbon with a 2-1 victory.
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