Portuguese champions SL Benfica were drawn into group A of the Champions League with Manchester United, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow. Benfica and Manchester United are clearly the two better teams in this group, however don’t sleep on Basel or CSKA, playing away in either Russia or Switzerland is never easy, especially during the fall/winter. However I’d still expect Benfica and United to battle out for first place.
This summer’s transfer window was very upsetting for Benfiquistas. Selling Nelson Semedo, Ederson, Lindelöf and Mitroglou was expected but what wasn’t expected was for me she could not sign any replacements. They decided that the centre backs that they have on their youth systems are enough to cope with the loss of Victor Lindelöf, and I may agree but André Almeida is a big downgrade from Semedo (and so is Benfica’s deadline day signing, Douglas).
It also felt mandatory to sign a goalkeeper, an experienced on at that, but Benfica once again went with youth and picked up Belgium GK Svilar. I doubt this man will start but with Varela and Júlio César, Benfica should be safe for this season. Losing Mitroglou upsets me more personally than on the field. He did score 52 goals but he is not irreplaceable also Raúl has stepped up quite well and it’s not surprising that Vitória trusts the Mexican. Benfica also want to make a very large sum for Jiménez so if the offer wasn’t there it doesn’t surprise me they’d sell Mitro.
With players coming into the team, Mitroglou’s replacement seems to be the best one. Gabriel Barbosa aka Gabigol was one of the highest talented players in the “canarinha” unfortunately for him his move to Inter was a bust but there’s still time to revive his career (being just 21) and what better place to do it than Lisbon? I’d also expect Krovinovic to step up alongside the likes of Seferovic and Douglas.
Overall this Benfica team isn’t better than last year’s but they’ve managed to stay consistent despite losing key players before so I don’t expect this year to be much different. Benfica’s strength is their attack. With Jonas, Seferovic, Raúl, Gabigol, Rafa, Cervi, Zivkovic, Pizzi.. these fowards could be unstoppable with the right tactics, so I expect a few blowouts. (Not in the Champions League though) Benfica’s weakness is their defence.
Going from Semedo to Douglas and Lindelöf to possibly Lisandro (with Jardel being hurt at the time this article is being written) this is a big step down, and our defence as been proved to be poor at times. Not having Júlio César ready for the start of the season didn’t help either.
I expect Benfica to top the group to be honest with you. I know what Manchester United can do, and I know that they have, on paper, a much more solid team than us, however I do trust that Vitória knows how to play against Mourinho. The fact that we’re going up against a Portuguese manager I think benefits us because we know his flaws and traits. I honestly think each team will win their respective home games though.
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Benfica lost or tied both games but I see us getting a shot at winning. Basel.. I can’t say I know a lot about them. I know they played Sporting in pre season (and won) but I wasn’t too impressed, I expect Benfica to win both home and away. CSKA is always a tough opponent. Even without Doumbia or Musa they always find a way to be competitive in Europe, playing away in Russia with tough conditions doesn’t help either.. Russian sides can be clinical and solid defensively, so I would rule them favourites to finish 3rd.
By: Peter Pereira
Photo: SL Benfica Facebook