Manchester Untied play Benfica tonight at the Estadio da Luz in our first Champions League group-stage game of the season, in what no doubt will be an exciting match of football.
Benfica, Portugal’s first European Champions are a great proud historic club and they’ve had to work hard to get to the competition-proper this season. After finishing runners-up behind FC Porto in Portugal last season, Benfica had to defeat Trabzonspor (who actually made it into the group-stages as a result of Fenebache getting banned) and FC Twente in the play-off rounds to get to the group-stages.
So far in their domestic season which started last month, Benfica have started the season well winning 3 of their opening 5 games, drawing the other two. Jorge Jesus since taking over in 2009 has built (and has to rebuild) a good side and they will not be push-over’s (not that we expect them to be) tonight.
United despite the absence of their preferred first-choice centre-backs in Nemanja Vidic (missing due to injury) and Rio Ferdinand (missing due to being given a rest ahead of the Chelsea game on Sunday) will be confident of coming away from Portugal’s capital Lisbon with the 3 points tonight.
Benfica though a team United have met 7 times against in Europe will be out to prove a point and they certainly have the talent and trickery to cause Sir Alex Ferguson a few problems tonight and pull of a repeat of the result they had against us in 2005 when they defeated us 2-1 in this fixture, knocking us out of the competition at the group-stage.
So what can we expect from tomorrow’s game. What will be the key battles on the pitch?
Phil Jones v Oscar Cardozo
United new boy Phil Jones has started the season in an impressive manner. He made up for missing out on making his England debut by starring in United’s 5-0 win at Bolton helping to set up 2 goals for Wayne Rooney.
Benfica’s star-forward Oscar Cardozo already has 6 goals this season (5 of those in the league) and the Paraguayan will certainly be a tough person to keep out of the game due to his height and power up top. It’s vital he is kept quiet for as much of the game as possible as he’s got the quality to shoot from anywhere and he can bring others into play with his hold-up play.
Anderson v Pablor Aimar
It would be fair to say, judging on just how talented he was as a youngster that Pablo Amiar hasn’t quite grown into the type of player both in Europe and for his country Argentina that he was expected to. Sadly injuries have ruined his career and his spot-light has fallen.
He is still a player who can shine on the big-occasion and has become very popular with the Benfica fans. Anderson has started the season brilliantly for United and is proving a key player brining balance to the side. His movement this season has been a joy to behold and he has the ability to deny Aimar time and space, setting up attacks for United as and when he wishes to.
Wayne Rooney v Luisão
Make no mistake about it Wayne Rooney has started the season in probably the best form of his life and already has 8 league goals already this season. He’s at the heart of every United move, looking fitter than ever before.
His marker tonight will be Benfica’s warrior-like Brazilian defender and captain Luisão, who certainly has the strength and composure to withstand the best forwards across Europe. He’s been an inspirational defender for Benfica since joining in 2003 and Rooney will have a ‘fight’ on his hands to get past the big defender, not that he’s ever been one to back down from a tough defender!
In terms of a prediction for the game tomorrow, as I stated earlier on in a predictions article, I believe this is going to be a tough game for us. Make no mistake about it, Benfica are a good side and I can see the game being drawn 1-1.
That will not be a bad result for us as the trip to the Estadio da Luz will be our toughest trip in the group-stage of the Champions League this season and a point away from home is never a bad result against a good side in Europe.
Hopefully I can be proved wrong and United will win, but at the moment despite our form this season being nothing short of brilliant, I don’t want to get too carried away and say that we will beat Benfica 3 or 4-0 because quite frankly that shouldn’t happen, unless of course they go down to 10 men early on.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87