Benfica v Liverpool | Opposition Preview

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Benfica vs Liverpool- Champions League Quarter Final first-leg 

By Daniel Ghorbal

If you were to glance at the Premier League and Liga Portugal tables, taking into consideration the respective quality of the divisions, the immediate feeling would be that this should be a breeze for Liverpool, with Benfica sitting in 3rd and a massive 12 points behind fellow rivals FC Porto. But the history of the Champions League and generations of enthralling ties suggests that this will be no easy ride for Liverpool and The Eagles will relish the opportunity to make history. Make no mistake about it, Jurgen Klopp’s side come into the tie on incredible form and are the clear favourites to not only win the tie but win this away fixture, although no away goals means that the hosts can almost certainly have a go at Liverpool in an attempt to establish an unlikely first-leg lead.

In Klopp’s press-conference prior to the game, he went out of his way to praise the qualities of certain Benfica players, most notably Rafa Silva and star of this season’s unprecedented European success, Darwin Nunez. The Uruguayan scored the decisive goal in the last 16 tie against Ajax and is the top scorer in Portugal this season with 27 goals in all competitions. The 22 year old is a pragmatic, clinical striker and has all the foundations of being a centre-forward that could reach the top level of the game. Despite Benfica’s ropey domestic form, he is arguably there already after his telling contributions saw the Lisbon-based side navigate through a tricky group including Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Nunez didn’t start Benfica’s most recent game having just returned from International duty, suggesting he will almost certainly lead the line in this one and look to test Liverpool’s incredibly switched on defence. Likewise, the aforementioned Rafa Silva has had a bright season and is a player the visitors will need to keep close tabs on in the Estadio da Luz. Rafa has exceptional pace and can operate on either flank, with the forward line being very fluid when at their best. Between him, Nunez, Yaremchuk etc. they have lots of firepower that can hurt Liverpool and really set the cat amongst the pigeons ahead of the second leg at Anfield.

Defensively, Benfica are not the best and an ageing backline certainly has its benefits when it comes to experience and nous of the big occasions, but coming up against dynamism and most importantly, fresh bodies, is a real cause of concern for Nelson Verissimo’s side. Luis Diaz is a player they will have been glad to see the back off after his move from Porto, so coming up against him again in the Champions League having just been rested against Watford is a scary prospect. Jan Vertonghen and Nicholas Otamendi are both players who have played in highly successful teams in England, most notably Otamendi who was a key cog in the centurion Manchester City side. He will have faced Salah, Mane, Firmino etc on a number of occasions so the possibility of a different front three could torment the Eagles’ defence at times. Likewise, Vertonghen was a great servant for Tottenham and played in the 2019 final against the reds, but to say they are at the back end of their careers would be an understatement and concentration is the bare minimum if they are to yield any success on Tuesday evening.

Another factor that needs to be considered when weighing up the outcomes of this game is Liverpool’s cataclysmic trip to Manchester City on Sunday, and although the cliché is that the players and manager take it ‘one game at a time’, Liverpool’s title challengers will certainly be in Jurgen Klopp’s thoughts right now, as well as treating Benfica with the ultimate respect they deserve. As Virgil Van Dijk rightfully pointed out in his press conference, they are in the last 8 of the Champions League for a reason, and with this season’s title out of reach for them, having a proper crack at the holy grail of European football will be in the forefront of their mind. With restrictions finally seeming to ease across the world, a full stadium in Lisbon will roar on the players to create an intimidating Champions League atmosphere and Liverpool need to be switched on and bring their A game.

Predicted Benfica team: Vlachodimos, Gilberto, Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo, Weigl, Mario, Meite, Everton, Rafa Silva, Nunez

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