Match: S.L. Benfica vs Manchester United
Competition: UEFA Champions League Group Stages
Stadium: Estádio da Luz
Date & KO Time: Weds 18 Oct 17 – 1945 BST
Where can you watch it? – BT Sport 2
This match will take us to the half way point of this season’s Champions League Group Stages for Group A: Top of the group vs bottom of the group. So far this season Man Utd have started well both domestically and in Europe; already scoring 7 goals and conceding just the 1 in the Champions League. On the other hand Benfica have conceded 7 goals and scored just 1. The Portuguese side has started well in La Liga scoring in every game domestically, but have only kept 3 clean sheets. Despite the poor start from Benfica in the Champions League, Mourinho has convinced his players that they are the best team Man Utd will face in the Group Stages. Should we expect a respectful performance from the Red Devils?
With no notable injuries, Benfica’s only absentee for this match is Right Back Andre Almeida who got sent off in last matches 5-0 loss against FC Basel. Benfica have a few players to watch out for in this match with their attack being relatively strong. Jonas and Jimenez have played well so far this season and are both fresh from not playing in this weekend’s cup competition against Olhanense. Previous Man Utd transfer target Gabriel Barbosa is on loan to Benfica from Inter Milan. Wingers Zivkovic, Salvio and Cervi were also rested.
Man Utd seem to have an ever growing list of injuries with Eric Bailly being the latest out with a Contusion. Pogba still out with a hamstring injury, but reports suggest he could be back soon. Ibrahimovic and Rojo out, and Carrick and Fellaini remain side-lined with knocks. Rashford started from the bench against Liverpool so should be fresher than Martial; Mata and Blind were also not involved in the weekend’s match against Liverpool.
Predicted Line Ups
Benfica is a very difficult team to predict the starting XI. The manager, Rui Vitoria hasn’t picked the same starting line-up in continuous games all season. He usually opts with a 4-4-2 formation, playing two central defensive midfielders. The only time he’s gone against that was in the match this weekend where he played the fringe players in a 4-3-3 formation in the Taca de Portugal Placard against Olhanense. So I’m going for Vitoria to go back to playing 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders.
The back four and Goalkeeper are relatively straight forward to pick, apart from the stand-in right back. It’ll be Julio Cesar in goal, and from left to right in defence; Grimaldo, Luisao, Jardel and Douglas (loaned from Barcelona) to come in as right back.
In midfield, I’ve gone with the two holding midfielders in Pizzi, who should start in some capacity, and Augusto. The two wingers were hard to predict, but I’ve gone with Cervi over Silva on the left as he’ll be fresher for not playing the weekend; and Salvio over Barbosa on the right wing for a similar reason, along with being more defensively minded and better match sharpness.
Up top should be the favoured pairing of Jonas and Jimenez, Jonas playing as a shadow striker to link the deep midfield to attack.
Man Utd have been on good form recently and got a good result without playing well away to Liverpool on the weekend. This is an important game to win as it’ll regenerate momentum back into the league match this weekend against Huddersfield and almost guarantee top spot in the group stages to avoid most of the big teams in the last 16.
Formation for Man Utd is usually 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. I’m predicting Mourinho will mix it up for this match and go for a 3-5-2 utilising two wing-backs.
In goal I’ve stuck with De Gea. A back three of Jones, Smalling and Lindelof: Although Lindelof’s form has been questionable, the opposition are familiar and he’ll have Jones and Smalling at the back to cover defensively too. The key thing is injecting confidence in him, we know the iceman is in there somewhere, we just need to wait for him to settle at the club.
Right wing back will almost certainly be Valencia with no-one else realistically able to play in that position. On the left wing back I’ve put Luke Shaw. No doubt Mourinho would have seen the unrest with Shaw in his U23 performance against West Ham, and we know how Mourinho loves controversy. This will be a great time for Mourinho to develop some relationship with Shaw by showing trust and support, but Shaw must repay him with effort and a performance.
In CDM will be Matic, Mourinho won’t risk resting certain players at this stage. Along with Matic in the centre I’ve put Herrera on the left side and Mata on the right to push forward and link up with the strikers. Up top is Rashford as a shadow striker to link up with the anchor-man in Lukaku: Lukaku’s power to hold up the play and lay it off to Rashford to get in behind with his pace.
It’ll be a tricky game, and probably the closest one we’ll see in the group phase. Benfica play with naturally defensive tactics which might be hard to break down. They play on the counter and will let United have most of the possession.
I think it’ll take United a while to find the break through, but I do think Man Utd will win this one.
So I’ll go with:
S.L. Benfica 0-2 Manchester United FT (S.L. Benfica 0-0 Manchester United HT)