Benfica appears as another opponent Bayern Munich need to dispose of before the real tests come, but this tie is the most unique Champions League fixture the German champions have had under Pep Guardiola. Why? Because the will be playing the first leg in their own ground.
It seems like a small, meaningless change to the routine, but it is a tick Bayern used to win the treble. Both home legs against Juventus and Barcelona went extremely well, and the treble champions took multi-goal advantages to away stadiums and cruised to the next round. Guardiola teams do not tend to do well in first-leg away fixtures anyways, so a home tie cannot hurt this time around.
Benfica are also on a terrific run, winning 19 of their last 20 games. Going to Lisbon may have been a similar buzzsaw as going to Porto a year ago with the form the defending Portuguese champions are in. With an Allianz Arena crowd at their back, Bayern should boss this first leg, setting themselves up for a much less stressful path to the semifinals.
The Match (7th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Sports 2 | HD, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, WatchESPN
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UK: BT Sport 2, BT Sport Live Streaming
Germany: Sky Sport 1&2 | HD, Sky Go, TeleClub Sport Live
UEFA Champions League: 4 W, 2 D, 0 L
If Bayern were looking for a proper tune-up before their Champions League fixture, they did not get it against Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bundesliga frontrunners were not running the show well in attack, outside of a stellar effort from Franck Ribery. Luckily, Frankfurts forwards – name Luc Castignos – could not finish a chance if their life depended on it, but that will not be the case against Benfica.
The defense has to be planned properly, and Guardiola may approach the problem in an out-of-the-box way. He dropped Xabi Alonso against Juventus for good reason, and he may do the same against Benfica with the way the Portuguese club's young midfielders operate. The pair of Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara have worked well in the past, and their tenacity will be important. Having interceptors like Javi Martinez and Joshua Kimmich will also be critical as well, especially since Bayern will not win an aerial battle anyways.
Guardiola has been saving Douglas Costa for a reason, and that reason is because his dynamism is too important. Costa is used to playing every game though, so he may need to shake of the rust in the first few minutes – especially since Guardiola will ask him to do similar things Arjen Robben usually does. Fortunately for him, Franck Ribery will demand some attention on the other flank, and if the old Frenchman can move like he did against Frankfurt, Costa will have less pressure to perform on the opposite flank.
Guardiola warned against complacency, but the Allianz Arena crowd – who whistled their team at halftime against Juventus – will ensure complacency does not enter the building.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Franck Ribery – Thomas Müller – Douglas Costa
Thiago Alcantara – Arturo Vidal
David Alaba – Javi Martinez – Joshua Kimmich – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Juan Bernat, Rafinha, Xabi Alonso, Sebastian Rode, Mario Götze, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Holger Badstuber (ankle), Medhi Benatia (groin), Jerome Boateng (groin), Arjen Robben (groin)
Benfica has an odd mix of players in their squad, a product of so much roster turnover, but Rui Vitoria has made it work. He has mixed experience and youth while also getting the best out of players who have underperformed in the "top four leagues."
Having Jonas at his disposal certainly does not hurt either. The forward is having a career year at 32, leading Liga NOS with 30 goals in 28 games and getting a long overdue look in the Brazilian national team. He is clearly the mentor in attack, one reason why Vitoria is able to mix so many different kinds of pieces in the final third.
The defense is clearly the biggest question mark going into this tie. Not only is Luisão injured, but Lisandro Lopez has also sucked the squad depth at the back. Because of the lack of options, many are predicting André Almeida will have to be a part of this defense, but Nélson Semedo has been too dynamic, and he is probably the reason why Benfica could let Maxi Pereira go to Liga NOS rival Porto.
They are the assumed underdog in this tie, but with the experience this group has together, one has to consider they have a fighting chance.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Konstantinos Mitroglu – Jonas
Nico Gaitán – Andreas Samaris – Renato Sanches – Pizzi
Eliseu – Jardel – Victor Lindelöf – Nélson Semedo
Bench: Paulo Lopes, André Almeida, Alejandro Grimaldo, Ljubomir Fejsa, Mehdi Carcela-González, Talisca, Raul Jimenez
Out/Suspended: Julio Cesar (thigh), Lisandro Lopez (thigh), Luisão, Nuno Santos (knee)
Even if Vitorio goes with a "more conservative approach" – weird to say considering Benfica's recent record and European success – They will have a real tough time coping with Bayern. Vidal alone presents a miss-match in midfield, providing a physical presence Samaris and Sanches will have a hard time coping with. Mitroglu and Jonas have the skill to get an away goal, but it will be insignificant if Bayern are on their game.
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