Portuguese football manager, José Mourinho, will take his team, Manchester United, to play their second game on the road in his own backyard. Midweek, they are embarking on a short trip to Lisbon to take on the biggest club side in Portuguese football. United and Benfica have storied histories in this competition: United’s 4-1 win against a Eusebio-led Benfica in 1968 being, arguably, the most memorable. That victory made Manchester United the first English club to win the European Cup.
Benfica’s poor start
Today, Benfica are on a sticky wicket—both in Portugal and outside of it. They may be placed third in their league, but the Eagles’ recent form has been pretty disappointing compared to their usually high standards. They can only boast three wins in all competitions and saw a brutal 5-0 defeat at Basel, Switzerland.
As a consequence, their European campaign has suffered as poor of a start as they could have imagined: losing both of their opening games, scoring once and conceding seven, and jeopardizing their hopes of making it to the knockouts. That being said, with the experience they have within the club, and European pedigree ingrained in their DNA, it will be intriguing to see if Rui Vitória’s side will perform memorably at the famed Estadio Da Luz.
Man United on target?
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 pulverized the opinions of fans and pundits alike on social media. United recorded only one shot on target out of six attempts in total at Anfield. Yet their league position suggests that the Red Devils are probably where they wanted to be at this stage of the season.
Two points off league leaders, with six clean sheets out of seven 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. A win would virtually ensure qualification for the side, achieving what was considered the bare minimum.
Team news for both sides:
Benfica right-back André 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.
Manchester United’s 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 traveling 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.
The last time United faced Portuguese opposition was in the 2012/13 season. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s last campaign, 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 Matić, and Victor Lindelöf.
Benfica’s key man, Jonas
If you consistently score 10 goals in 9 games, 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 the 33-year-old Brazilian 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. Hence, who else holds the key to three vital points on Wednesday, but Jonas?
Manchester United’s key man, Marcus Rashford
Much to the bewilderment of some was Mourinho’s decision not to 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. This was particularly evident 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 acclimates 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.
Manchester United 2-0 Benfica
If Manchester United leaves Lisbon victorious, José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix will enjoy the return to his beloved homeland more than if they lose. As much as he may love his countrymen, there has to be a particular satisfaction that a son of Portugal has taken some of that soccer DNA and made a name for himself in Europe—amongst the English pedigree, no less.