Benfica 2015/16 Champions League Preview

Over the past few years Benfica have not had the best UEFA Champions League campaign. Going into the 2015/16 competition, Benfica have not advanced from the group stages since the 2011/12 season in which Benfica advanced out of the group stages losing out to Chelsea in the Quarter Finals. During the following two seasons Benfica were eliminated from the group stages and were relegated to the Europa League, a competition in which they encountered great success reaching  the finals both years but were unable to gain silverware thanks to a 50-year-old placed by former manager Bella Guttman.

Some of us were not fortunate enough to witness the Eusébio years in which Benfica were back-to-back European champions. Benfica although successful at winning twice, have had a total of seven UEFA Champions League finals making them the tenth most successful team in Champions League history (Sorry to FC Porto, and Sporting Lisbon)

There were memorable Champions League finals throughout the 60’s against Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Internazionale, and Manchester United. In recent years the 1988 finals saw Benfica lose 6-5 on penalties to PSV Eidenhoven, a game in which Benfica legend Antonio Veloso was unable to score as the last shooter on the pitch. 1990 saw a 1-0 loss to AC Milan making it a back-to-back Champions League victory for the giants of Italy.

Going into this year’s competition, there is no doubt that Benfica will have a hard time getting out of the group stages. What is different about this year than previous years is that Benfica’s new coach Rui Vitória is looking to make an impact. During a coach’s new year at a new club it is very important to be results driven. Rui Vitória is looking for success in all completions and getting Benfica out of the group stages (regardless if Benfica are quickly eliminated in the round-of-16) is something which would not only satisfy the Benfica Nation but also the higher ups (LFV, The SAD etc.) Clearly last year Jorge Jesus priority was to win the domestic Liga NOS and with an early dismissal from all UEFA competitions he clearly did that. Rui Vitória is looking to secure his job at the helm and demonstrate to all of the doubters that he is best suited for this position.

The Benfica Nation must go into every competition with an open mind supporting this team from Matchday #1 all the way to the #6. Regardless, as to whether or not is dominating the Liga NOS will be no indication as to how this team will perform in this year’s UEFA Champions League competition.We all know players representing the big clubs of smaller countries like Portugal all look forward to play in the UEFA Champions League because it allows them an opportunity to showcase their talent to wealthier clubs in Europe in hopes to get that brand new contract. So when we hear about Benfica spending almost nine million on Mexican Forward Raúl Jiménez and continue to showcase such players as; Talisca, Nico, Jonas, Samaris and many more, Benfica (just like everyone else) will want to make a profit on each of their current investments (players) to allow for future assets to be redistributed for more profitable investments (future players, internal growth at The Seixal, BTV etc.). Did we all forget Talisca’s goal last year during the group stages? It did not get him that 20 Million Euro transfer to Chelsea but it got Jorge Jesus and José Mourinho discussing D’Artagnan with Jorge Jesus.

This year Benfica drew FC Astana (Kazakhstan), Atlético Madrid (Spain), Galatasaray (Turkey) for Group C of The UEFA Champions League. Although, Benfica have been more successful in the Europa League campaign then the Champions League, Benfica will most definitely advance out of the group stages and onto the round-of-16 finishing second behind Atlético gaining 9-12 points. 10 points is normally the magic number which guarantees a right to passage out of the group stages.

FC Astana

Although being deemed as the weaker team in Group C, 2014 Kazakhstan Premier League winners FC Astana have had a long road to qualify for this year’s tournament. There were 3 rounds of qualifying which included wins against Malmo (Sweden), HJK (Finland) and Apoel Nicosa (Cyprus). The team has only been in existence for 6 years and have also won the Kazakhstan Cup (twice) and Super Cup (twice). Their biggest sponsor is the Kazakhstan National Railway and just like teams in the Russian Premier League and Ukrainian Pro League, there is oil influenced investments in the teams and Premier League of Kazakhstan. Please insert all “Borat” references here but the reality is although Benfica will be confident in Matchday #1 (coming off a 6-0 victory against Belenenses) going to Astana in late November for Matchday #5 will be Benfica’s ultimate test as they have struggled in cold weather against such teams as Zenit St. Petersburg, and CSKA Moscow. Benfica cannot give up these 6 points as it will be crucial winning both home and away matches. Benfica are a much stronger squad then Astana but there are a few key players to watch out for during both legs.

Key Players: Nemanja Maksimović, Foxi Kéthévoama, Branko Ilić, Roger Cañas

Galatasaray S.K

In regards to a team which is comparable in talent, Benfica and Galatasaray S.K are a much better match-up then FC Astana and Atlético. Not only is Galatasaray a sports club like Benfica but they also have loyal, die hard supporters. In fact Galatasaray held the record for  “loudest crowd roar at a sport stadium” on March 18, 2011 reaching 131.76 decibels. This record was later broken in the NFL by the Seattle Seahawks in September 2013 reaching 137.6 decibels. It is also common for fans of Cimbom (nickname) to warm up the Türk Telekom Arena 2-3 hours in advanced filling up the stadium and chanting up until kick off. Galatasary have  had mild success in UEFA competitions. They were the 1999/00 UEFA Europa League winners and UEFA Super Cup winners of 2000. They have also reached the Quarter-Finals of UEFA Champions League during 2012/13.

In their domestic league Galatasaray have won 3 league titles within the last 4 seasons and have won back-to-back Fortis Turkey Cup.Galatasaray play in the European part of Istanbul and it will be very difficult for Benfica to get a victory over there. The fact that Benfica play Galatasary away on Matchday #3 and then host them on Matchday #4 may be an advantage. If Benfica get an unfavourable result away then they will be able to quickly capitalize and learn from their mistakes and hopefully improve for a better result at The Luz. Benfica may possibly lose or draw away but can be victorious at home. Benfica need to also achieve the same or better result as Galatasaray when facing AS Astana (Benfica wins both games against Astana, Galatasary gives up points against Astana)

Key Players: Fernando Muslera, Selçuk İnan, Wesley Sneijder, Lukas Podolski, Lionel Carole

Atlético Madrid

Deemed as the third place team of Spain’s La Liga, Atléti (AKA Os Colchoneros or Rojiblancos) have one of the hardest working Managers in Footy today. Diego Simeone in less then five seasons has helped lead Atléti to winning two UEFA Europa League and two UEFA Super Cup championships, a La Liga title (First in 18 seasons), a Copa Del Rey title, Spain Super Cup and a runner-up appearance at The 2014 UEFA Champions League Final losing 4-1 to Real Madrid at The Luz. It is no doubt that this will be Benfica’s most crucial opponent in Group C. With a deep competitive squad,a results driven coach and 54,907 strong at The Vicente Calderón Stadium, Benfica on Matchday #2 are looking at possibly gaining no points against Atléti. Although Benfica President LFV and Atléti President Enrique Cerezo are supposed “business associates” outside of footy, I don’t believe there will be any secret handshakes or back door deals in both legs. Both teams can possibly win the group but will be fighting hard against each other to earn that very important top spot in Group C.

I’m not sure if it will be an advantage or disadvantage but Benfica will host Atléti on the final Matchday #6. For some reasons Portuguese teams will often pull it together under pressure (Just look at Portugal’s National Team during their qualifying matches towards the end) and if the mindset for Benfica going into that last match is to win at home (because if they lose they will go to Europa League) then they will get the three points. However, if they are going into the last match with 9-10 points and don’t take Atléti seriously then they will lose. On the road Benfica lose, at home depending on the circumstances they may win or tie.

Key Players: Too many to name but ideally any former Benfica player and Jackson Martinez who is quite familiar playing against Benfica

Ideally it would be a great accomplishment for Benfica to reach the UEFA Champions League Final win or lose but unfortunately in this day and age this competition is made for the rich clubs to be succesful and not the poor or dare I say middle class. Getting out of the round-of-16 and getting a favourable draw to lead us out or into the Quarter-Finals is now considered an above average Champions League campaign for any team not just in Portugal. Some feel that UEFA competition is a distraction from the bigger task at hand and that is winning the Liga NOS and this year winning the “Tri.”As important as winning the Liga is this year for Benfica, a deep Champions League run is also important. Before Benfica kicks the ball on Matchday#1 they will receive 12 Million for qualifying. An additional 1.5 Million per victory and half of one million per each draw in the group stages. With almost 20 million at hand, this is most definitely a priority as an important to better the club financially in the future. Benfica are due for an advancement out of the group stages and this year with a new coach at the helm would be an ideal year. All parties involved will win the fans, the coach, and the organisation itself. Rui Vitória needs to make an impact and demonstrate to everyone that he is best suited for this job. In the event that Benfica are relegated to The Europa League, there is no doubt that a team with Jonas, Samaris, Julio César, Luisão and Nico if available until the end of the season are able to once again make another Europa League Final. Trick us once, fool us twice, but third time is always a charm.

Carrega Benfica!

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Author: Neil Fernandes

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