In midweek, Manchester United will play their second game on the road as they make the short trip to Lisbon to take on the biggest club side in Portuguese football. United and Benfica have storied histories in this competition with arguably United’s 4-1 win against a Eusebio-led Benfica in 1968 – the most memorable, making Manchester United the first English club to win the European Cup.
But today, Benfica are on a sticky wicket – both in Portugal and outside of it. They may be placed third in their league, but the recent form of the Eagles has been pretty disappointing by their usually high standards – with just 3 wins in games in all competitions – in a run that has seen a brutal 5-0 defeat at Basel in Switzerland.
As a consequence, their European campaign has suffered as worse a start as they could have imagined – losing both their opening games scoring once and conceding 7 already, jeopardising their hopes of making it to the knockouts. But that said, with the experience, they have got within the club and a European pedigree ingrained in their DNA, it will be intriguing to see if Rui Vitoria’s side could make it memorable at the famed Estadio Da Luz.
Manchester United came off a 0-0 draw on Saturday against their biggest domestic rivals for the second year on the bounce, that has predictably pulverised the opinions of fans and pundits alike on social media. United recorded only one shot on target out of 6 attempts in total at Anfield – yet their league position suggests, the Red Devils are probably where they wanted to be at this stage of the season.
Two points off league leaders – with 6 clean sheets out of 7 games in the league and only 12 conceded in 2017 (PL) so far, United have provided themselves with an ideal foundation at the back to build on in the Champions League on Wednesday and beyond and a win would virtually ensure qualification for the side, achieving what was considered bare minimum.
Benfica right-back Andrea Almeida will miss out through suspension, after being sent off in their last European tie away to Basel. Jonas has a back injury and is likely to miss out, as is defender Jardel while Eliseu has been ruled out with a thigh injury.
Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic still remain sidelined and while Marcos Rojo is still working his way back to full fitness, the Argentina defender was part of the travelling squad to Lisbon. The fitness of Eric Bailly, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick – who all missed Saturday’s clash with Liverpool will be assessed before Wednesday’s Champions League encounter.
- Manchester United have won 14 of the 21 fixtures against Portuguese clubs, and have lost only twice, with the remaining five matches ending all square.
- The last time United faced Portuguese opposition was in the 2012/13 season, when, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last campaign in charge, his side beat Braga twice in the group stages, notably coming from two goals down to win 3-2 at Old Trafford in the first encounter.
- The Red Devils are unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions.
- This match will mark a return to Lisbon for Mourinho, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof.
Jonas – Benfica
If you score 10 goals in 9 games in all competitions in a side that is struggling for form, then you will be the one the rest of the team should objectively look up to for better results. That is exactly what Brazilian 33-year old Jonas is going through at the moment. Benfica lack goals in their side and anything less than a win on Wednesday could effectively kill their chances of qualifying for the last 16 – and hence, who else holds the key to 3 vital points on Wednesday, but Jonas?
Rashford – Manchester United
Much to the bewilderment in some sections of the support was not so much down to the overall performance as Mourinho’s decision to not start Marcus Rashford at Anfield to exploit what was a suspect back four – that Manchester City put five past. Rashford has scored some big goals in his brief but outstanding career at his boyhood club – particularly in Europe last year culminating in a victorious season.
But this is the Champions League where true champions are forged and the sooner Marcus Rashford acclimatizes to this competition, the better are Manchester United’s prospects of going deep into the next few rounds.
Manchester United will score goals. And therefore, Manchester United will win this one.
Benfica 0-2 Manchester United