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Champions League: Benfica v Anderlecht preview

PortuGOAL.net has teamed up with BeNeFoot.net to bring you an in-depth preview of the Matchday One Champions League tie between Benfica and Anderlecht at the Estádio da Luz tomorrow.

Curiously, both teams have won their domestic leagues the same number of times, currently lie fourth in the table and also match each other in the head-to-head record. Chris Mayer and Tom Kundert take a closer look.

At a glance

Benfica

Anderlecht

Domestic championships

32 times winners

32 times winners

European Cup/Champs League best

2 times winners 1961, 1962

Semi-finalists 1982,1986

Current league position

4th

4th

Head to head record

3 wins / 2 draws / 3 defeats

3 wins / 2 draws / 3 defeats

How did Anderlecht get here?

Benefoot: Anderlecht’s 32nd championship win back in May meant they qualified automatically for this year’s group stages. Last season, Les Mauves were the unfortunate casualty of Chelsea’s 2011/12 triumph, forcing them to play in the final qualifying round.

How did Benfica get here? 

PortuGOAL: Benfica qualified automatically for the group stage having finished runners-up in last season’s Portuguese championship. It is Benfica’s fourth successive appearance in this phase of the world’s greatest club competition. Indeed, under Jorge Jesus, Benfica have reached a quarter-final (EL), a semi-final (EL), a quarter-final (CL) and a final (EL) in the last four seasons – an impressive level of consistency that pushed the Eagles into the pot of top seeds for this year’s competition.

How have Anderlecht looked in the early stages of the new season?

Benefoot: Aside from a shock opening day 2-3 defeat to Lokeren, Anderlecht have done reasonably well in the opening exchanges of the Jupiler Pro League. Since that loss, Anderlecht have scored three or more in every single match, and their tally of 26 goals in seven games is impressive.

They’ve dispatched the lesser teams convincingly, but were on the wrong end of a crazy 4-3 thriller against runners-up Zulte Waregem before the international break, which suggests their defence isn’t up to scratch just yet for the European excursions.

How have Benfica looked in the early stages of the new season?

PortuGOAL: Perhaps still affected by a spectacular end-of-season collapse in May, together with a somewhat scattergun summer transfer window, Benfica have looked far from their best so far in 2013/14. The first three games of the season yielded just one win, and that thanks to two stoppage-time goals. However, in Saturday’s victory over Paços de Ferreira the Eagles showed signs of recapturing their swagger.

Ones to watch – who are the star players on show?

Benefoot: After cashing in on their majority of their prized assets in the summer (as well as ousting deadwood), a number of new names have come to the floor. 19-year old right-sided winger Massimo Bruno has flourished this campaign, after breaking into the side last season. He’s scored 5 goals in six games, a great return. Matias Suarez has returned from a few long injury layoffs and looks back to his sparkling best.

Mitrovic has already made an impact at Anderlecht (Photo: Anderlecht/Facebook)

There’s plenty of excitement surrounding two new attackers –the speedy Frank Acheampong (dubbed  the Ghanaian Messi in some quarters) and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who José Mourinho recently claimed could become one of the best strikers in Europe. He bagged a double against Mechelen on Saturday and has made an immediate impression on the side.

PortuGOAL: He had one foot out of the door in the summer after infamously pushing coach Jorge Jesus in the aftermath of Benfica’s Portuguese Cup final defeat to Vitória Guimarães at the tail end of last season, but goalscorer par excellence Oscar Cardozo remained at the Luz and will look to build on his status as the club’s all-time record goalscorer for a non-Portuguese player.

The new kid on the block goes by the name of Lazar Markovic, and the 19-year-old Serbian has already shown himself to be an outstanding talent and surely a future global star of the game. Benfica were able to hold onto last season’s player of the year in Portugal Nemanja Matic, while Brazilian striker Lima and Argentine Enzo Pérez (fresh from a man-of-the-match performance on the weekend) have the ability to trouble any defence.

Anderlecht’s strong points/weak points – what must Benfica beware of and what can they exploit?

Benefoot: As already mentioned, Anderlecht’s defence has been less than convincing in the Jupiler Pro League, shipping 10 goals already, which is a slight concern. Last season’s formidable centre-back pairing of Bram Nuytinck and Cheikhou Kouyaté has looked shaky. Chancel Mbemba has struggled to replace Kouyaté when called upon. With Anderlecht’s centre-back options all quite young (none over the age of 23), inexperience at this level could and should be punished by the opposition. Anderlecht did keep a clean sheet at the weekend against Mechelen, which gives them hope.

There’s also a concern about the centre of midfield lacking creativity. Sacha Kljestan and Demy De Zeeuw provide a solid base and will be required to shield a flaky back-four, but it is uncertain just how much attacking edge they can provide. New signing Luka Milivojević could be the answer to this problem though.

Anderlecht’s three fast forward-thinking players Suarez, Bruno and Acheampong are all dovetailing nicely, but none are particular strong or have the stature aerially. Aleksandar Mitrovic should now force his way into the side and claim the role Dieumerci Mbokani performed for the club as the target man.

Benfica’s strong points/weak points – what must Anderlecht beware of and what can they exploit?

PortuGOAL: Despite the injuries ruling out Argentine wingers Salvio and Gaitán, Benfica retain an impressive array of attacking threats. Strikers Cardozo and Lima, who shared 63 goals last season, will expect the likes of Markovic, Pérez and Ola John to provide a generous supply line of assists, with the three cited players carrying a significant goal threat themselves.

Ezequiel Garay has been suspect in the early games for Benfica (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jorge Jesus’ love of attacking football comes at a price, and once again the defence looks to be the team’s Achilles’ heel. Age is catching up with Uruguayan right-back Maxi Pereira and left-back Siqueira was bought on transfer deadline day and is not yet fully in sync with his new team-mates. Even the usually solid centre-back partnership of captain Luisão and Garay has looked shaky at times this season, maybe affected by the erratic form of goalkeeper Artur.

What system do Anderlecht usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?

Benefoot: John van den Brom has been experimenting a little bit this season, but it seems likely he will go for a 4-4-2 formation which worked so well against Mechelen at the weekend, with Suarez and Mitrovic forging a great understanding so quickly. Frank Acheampong may join the duo from the left on occasion.

The coach may choose a 4-5-1 away in the Champions League. Given how this season has gone, Anderlecht look strong when going forward and incredibly lax when defending, though this wasn’t necessarily the case last season.

What system do Benfica usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?

PortuGOAL: As alluded to earlier, Jorge Jesus is an unconditional advocate of all-out attacking football. He favours a 4-4-2 formation, although the success of switching to a 4-5-1 when the opposition demands respect in the last two seasons has tempered his offensive instincts in certain matches. However, with Cardozo back in the picture and in a game Benfica know they have to win if they want to embark on a stress-free Champions League group stage campaign, it will be a surprise if Jesus does not revert to his tried and trusted formation.

What is the Belgian press saying about Anderlecht’s participation in this season’s Champions League? What is the goal?

Benefoot: I think there’s an acceptance that Anderlecht aren’t going to pull up any trees in this tournament. It’s a very young side (only Silvio Proto, Demy De Zeeuw and Olivier Deschacht are 30 or over) that have little to no European experience. The press are of course happy that there is at least Belgian representation in the tournament.

The realistic target should be to better last season’s fourth place in the group and get into the Europa League, which they have a far better shot of doing well in. Last year’s group of Malaga, Milan and Zenit St Petersburg had a familiar feel to this group. PSG and Benfica both have an exceptional European pedigree; to get a result over either should be regarded highly.

What is the Portuguese press saying about Benfica’s participation in this season’s Champions League? What is the goal?

PortuGOAL: With the final at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz and a string of strong showings in Europe lately, the more romantic local journalists have been whimsically writing about the “dream” of the Lisbon giants striding out in their home stadium in the May final. Snapping out of that fantasy and looking at the competition realistically, a creditable performance would be to match the run in 2011/12 when Benfica reached the quarter-finals before losing to eventual winners Chelsea. Anything more will be a bonus.

Herman van Holsbeeck would happily take a point in Lisbon tonight.

Herman van Holsbeeck would happily take a point in Lisbon tonight.

Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Anderlecht come into the tie in a confident frame of mind?

Benefoot: They do indeed come into this game buoyant by their goalscoring form, but van den Brom recognises that Benfica is going to be a lot tougher than Mechelen.

Curiously after the draw he said he “really wanted” to get Benfica of the top seeds.

“You always look at which team you have the best chance against. Our goal is now to break through. Just being in the Champions League is the easy bit. We must create chances against all three teams. I would go as far as to say we’ll take quite a few points.”

Based on that comment and their recent form, I don’t believe Anderlecht’s confidence could be much higher, and they know the games against Benfica are important in deciding their fate.

Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Benfica come into the tie in a confident frame of mind?

PortuGOAL: Benfica coach Jorge Jesus was cautiously optimistic ahead of the match, saying the target was to sum 10 points in the group stage and emphasising the importance of winning the first match. “It’s going to be a very even group. It’s important to win the first game. Anderlecht are champions of Belgium and have some very high quality players, especially Mitrovic and Matías Suárez. We’re ready for a dificult game but we want to give a good response.”

What do you think the result of the match will be?

Benefoot: Anderlecht haven’t won an away match in the Champions League since beating Real Betis in 2005. I don’t see that changing on Tuesday evening. Anderlecht’s defence will need to be at their best to stop Benfica at the Estádio da Luz, and with plenty of question marks surrounding the back-four, I don’t see them keeping the home side at bay. 2-1 Benfica.

PortuGOAL: Although only the first Champions League game of the new campaign, Tuesday’s encounter could have a huge impact on Benfica’s season. Lose or draw and an unconvincing start to the season will take on the look of a disastrous one, and quite possibly increase pressure on coach Jorge Jesus to breaking point. A win, on the other hand, especially if coupled with a strong performance, could banish the demons and kick-start a campaign befitting an abundant and highly talented squad. I’m going for the latter: Benfica 3-1 Anderlecht.

Our thanks to Tom Kundert and Portugoal.net. For the best news and views on Portuguese football in English, be sure to check out their site.




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