Tag Archives: Benfica

Benfica vs Ajax – Champions League Last 16 predictions

The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.

In a tie that is highly likely to be entertaining, two excellent young teams go head-to-head as Portuguese giants Benfica clash Eredivisie champions Ajax for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.



Route to Last 16

SL Benfica arguably caused the shock of the group stages as they pipped Barcelona to the runners-up spot in a group also containing Bayern Munich and Dinamo Kyiv.

They claimed a 3-0 win over the La Liga outfit at the Estadio Da Luz, before a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou meant they only needed to match Barca’s result in the final game. They won 2-0 against Kyiv to seal their spot, having scored seven goals and conceded nine.

Jorge Jesus has since left the club however, replaced by Nelson Verissimo until the end of the season.

Ajax completed a stunning group stage phase with six wins out of six, as Sebastian Haller scored ten goals to lead the scoring charts, scoring in all six games.

Erik Ten Haag’s side dominated a group including Sporting CP, Dortmund and Besiktas, scoring 20 goals and conceding just five to assert themselves as dark horses for the title.

Team news

Benfica have been in good form domestically but were held to a 2-2 draw most recently against Boavista. Grimaldo returned to the team and scored in that game, in a huge boost to the side.

Darwin Nunez has been in exceptional form this season with 21 goals in 26 games and will continue in attack, but Haris Seferovic is missing for the hosts. Goncalo Ramos should start in his place.

Ajax will be without trio Brian Brobbey, Martin Stekelenburg and Sean Klaiber, while Andre Onana is likely to continue to sit in the stands ahead of his summer move to Inter Milan.

Haller will continue in attack, while superstar winger Antony will continue to support him along with Dusan Tadic as they look to continue their 100% record throughout the competition.

Breakdown and Prediction

Benfica’s 442 system will be in place as usual to try and find a hole in the Ajax defence, but the Dutch giants are going to be well equipped for this fixture.

Having already been to Lisbon and dominated Sporting, they’re coming up against a lesser side who play a system more suited to them and they should have too much for them in attack.

Benfica have got plenty of firepower and defensively are quite strong, so don’t rule out an upset in the home leg but realistically this is an Ajax side at their absolute peak under Ten Hag.

The Dutch giants will dominate the tempo of the game and possession and slowly but surely chip away before scoring goals and claiming a routine win over two legs.

Benfica 1-3 Ajax
Ajax 2-0 Benfica
(Ajax to qualify 5-1 on aggregate)

Full redrawn Champions League Last 16 draw – Fixtures and dates

The UEFA Champions League last 16 draw has been re-drawn after a botched attempt on Monday morning, and has thrown up some cracking ties.

At the second attempt of trying, Manchester United were drawn with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid will take on Paris Saint-Germain in the tie of the round.

Manchester City will face Sporting CP, while Liverpool take on Inter Milan. Chelsea were the winners of the redraw, keeping their original opponents in Ligue 1’s Lille.



The original draw saw Manchester United once again set to face off against Paris Saint-Germain, with Cristiano Ronaldo to go head-to-head with Lionel Messi once again in the tie of the round.

Atletico Madrid were scheduled to take on Bayern Munich in the other mega tie, while the other English sides would have been happy with their draws as Liverpool faced Salzburg, Man City faced Villarreal.

However UEFA accidentally put Manchester United into the pot to be drawn against Villarreal and then they were selected, despite being ineligible to do so having come from the same group.

United then weren’t put into the pot for the potential opponents of Atletico amid the confusion, meaning they could never have been drawn against each other.

The draw will now be re-done at 14:00 UK time after several complaints that the botched draw affected the integrity of the competition going forward.

The fixtures will take place in February, with the first legs taking place on February 15/16 or 22/23 with the second legs taking place on March 8/9 or 15/16. Group winners will play their home game in the second leg.

Full draw and fixture dates:

FC Salzburg vs Bayern Munich – February 16th 2022
Bayern Munich vs FC Salzburg – March 8th 2022

Sporting CP vs Manchester City – February 15th 2022
Manchester City vs Sporting CP – March 9th 2022

SL Benfica vs Ajax – February 23rd 2022
Ajax vs SL Benfica – March 15th 2022

Chelsea vs Lille – February 22nd 2022
Lille vs Chelsea – March 16th 2022

Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United – February 23rd 2022
Manchester United vs Atletico Madrid – March 15th 2022

Villarreal vs Juventus – February 22nd 2022
Juventus vs Villarreal – March 16th 2022

Inter Milan vs Liverpool – February 16th 2022
Liverpool vs Inter Milan – March 8th 2022

Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Madrid – February 15th 2022
Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain – March 9th 2022

Streets Won’t Forget – Adel Taarabt

In every generation of football there is a selection of players that while they may not see the greatest level of success, are never forgotten by the fans.

These players are usually the ones that kept the fans on the edge of their seats during games, provided memorable moments and played the beautiful game in a beautiful way.

This series is dedicated to celebrating those players and giving them their flowers now, before they fade into the distance and it’s too late.



Arguably the first player that comes to mind in the English game with that description is former QPR and Tottenham playmaker Adel Taarabt.

The Moroccan currently plies his trade at Benfica at the Estadio Da Luz as a deep lying playmaker, with a far more conservative style. But the player that many remember earlier in his career was breathtaking.

Joining Tottenham as a 17-year-old, Taarabt was seen as a star of the future at the club. But a falling out with manager Juande Ramos meant he was excluded from the squad and training ground for a short period of time.

He was allowed back in after Harry Redknapp took over, but after limited playing time he joined Queens Park Rangers on loan for an initial three-month period. A knee injury cut the spell short, but he re-joined the following season for the full campaign.

In that season, he performed really well and earned himself a permanent move to the club where he then became a household name and a player capable of viral moments and match-winning performances.

His first season after signing the permanent deal was stunning. He racked up 19 goals and 21 assists in 44 appearances in the Championship, but it was the style in which he did things that was even more impressive.

The cheeky nutmegs, the mazy dribbles, the stunning passes, the ability to put defenders on their bum and the willingness to carry the entire load on his back for a team chasing promotion.

Some of the greatest individual goals in the Premier League in that time were scored by Taarabt too.

His wonder goal against Fulham will forever be remembered not only by QPR fans, but by football fans.

He collected the ball on the half way line, before forcing a nutmeg through Brede Hangelaand’s legs. He then ran straight through the heart of the Fulham defence with feints, before a delicate ball roll and a shot with the outside of his right boot which never left the ground but curled into the far corner.

That wasn’t even his best. Down in the Championship against Preston during his brilliant QPR season, Taarabt received the ball from a teammate out wide.

He did a fancy trick pass before receiving the ball back from him. He’s then fronted by a defender who he casually nutmegs with ease, leaving the defender walking off in embarrassment and his teammate putting his head in his hands.

Taarabt then takes the ball another stride and curls a strike into the far corner, that can’t be kept out by the goalkeeper’s hand he gets to it. It’s a sensational strike and just typifies what he was about as a player during that moment of his career.

If you ever get bored or have some time to kill, just go on YouTube and watch highlights. You will be entertained for hours and ultimately, that’s what football is all about.

History may forget him one day, but the streets never will.

Wolves looking at Bruno Lage to replace Nuno Espirito Santo

While people think it may be the end of an era at Wolves, their next choice of manager seems to make that a bit unlikely.

After Nuno Espirito Santo and the club announced that he would leave the club via mutual agreement following the end of their Premier League campaign, it was revealed that former Benfica boss Bruno Lage is the front-runner for the job.

But who is Lage and what would he bring to the Wolves team? Well for starters, he’s won titles.

He’s not the most experienced manager around, with question marks around whether he is even eligible to take the job based on Brexit imposed work-permit issues, having spent just a single season as first-team manager at Benfica.

During the 2018/19 campaign, he took over the job on January 6th and won the Primeira Liga by two points ahead of FC Porto, being named as named as manager of the month in each of the final three months. He was eventually then named manager of the season too, and was a big reason for why Joao Felix was deemed good enough for Atletico Madrid to spend £170m on after scoring 20 goals in 43 games.

SL Benfica v Boavista FC - Liga NOS : News Photo

Lage led the team to win 18 of 19 games in the league, with the only game he didn’t win being a 2-2 draw with Belenenses in which they blew a 2-0 lead. He did also make it to the semi-finals of both domestic cup competitions, losing on away goals to Sporting CP in the Taca de Portugal and then 3-1 to Porto in the Taca de Liga. A Europa League run wasn’t successful either, as they were eliminated by Frankfurt on away goals too.

Despite the sole trophy win, it was a mightily impressive Benfica side that he got performing to a very high level. They played fast-paced, attacking football with a real goal threat, while also performing admirably in defence too.

In the 29 games he took charge of during that first half-season his team scored 85 goals, an average of 2.93 goals per game while conceding only 27 goals. Everything pointed to being the start of a magical partnership between the parties.

The following season was far from that though. After starting well, Benfica won just two of their final 10 games together in the Primeira Liga and Lage was sacked in at the end of June. They were eliminated at the first stage of both the Champions League and then the Europa League too by Shakhtar Donetsk, meaning they finished trophyless for the season.

They were eliminated in the third round of the Taca de Liga after failing to win any of their group stage games, before losing in the Taca de Portugal final to ten-man Porto.

Once Benfica hit a wall, he had no way of getting them out of it and that could be an issue if something similar were to happen at Wolves. They have plenty of talent in the squad, including young Portuguese players and while he has experience with younger talent getting out of a rut in the Premier League isn’t easy.

He will no doubt bring some more flair to a side that had gone stale under Santo, and while excitement is always something fans want to see it’s results that are most important. With very little experience at the top level to point to, fans could be quick to turn on him in a bad patch.

Despite that though, it’s a very interesting appointment from Wolves. They clearly want to go in a more attacking direction while maintaining their links with Jorge Mendes and Portugal, and with Lage being a free agent it means they don’t have to spend too much either.

An intriguing, fun appointment by a side in the Premier League with plenty of room to go. It should be a fun season.

Arsenal edge past Benfica to keep season alive beyond February

Arsenal’s season has survived beyond February after two goals in the final 25 minutes saw them come from behind against Benfica to progress into the last 16 of the Europa League.

The Gunners took the lead after a lovely reverse pass from Bukayo Saka found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who dinked it over the onrushing goalkeeper for his 12th goal of the season. A stunning free-kick from Diego Goncalves equalised just before half-time but the Gunners were in control for much of the game.

In the second half, a long ball from the goalkeeper should have been easily dealt with by Dani Ceballos but the Spaniard inexplicably tried to head the ball back to his keeper from just behind the halfway line, which Rafa Silva cut out before rounding Bernd Leno to put the Eagles ahead. Arsenal fired back just seven minutes later through Kieran Tierney, before Saka crossed for Aubameyang to head home three minutes from the end to seal the comeback win.

It was a big turnaround for the north London club and means that they keep their hopes alive of Champions League football for next season, and also means they have something to play for beyond this month.

Mikel Arteta’s side currently sit in 11th place in the Premier League after a horrid season which has seen them lose more games than they have won currently.

The performance showed signs of great character though, with many online on social media believing that once Benfica took the lead that Arsenal would crumble and crash out of the competition. It’s a sign of the progress they have made under Arteta this season, although it’s still fair to say that he has struggled so far as manager.

On the positive side for the Reds is that going forward they looked half decent once again. Saka got two assists and missed a sitter in the first half, Aubameyang scored twice and had another goal disallowed for a marginal offside which was created by a beautiful pass from loanee Martin Odegaard.

Defensively they looked shaky, with Benfica creating other chances aside from their goals and ultimately the Lisbon club let themselves down by trying to protect the lead far too early instead of just playing their regular game.

Arsenal will now look to push up the table in the Premier League when they take on Leicester City this weekend, who went out of the Europa League after a home defeat to Slavia Prague later on Thursday night.

Judging by Arteta’s team selections against Benfica however, he will be prioritising the Europa League – potentially seeing it as a more realistic path to not only a trophy but also to Champions League football next season.

Without it, Arsenal could have a blank European calendar in total come next season with even a top six position in the league looking a touch too far away for them right now.

Europa League last 32 predictions – Benfica vs Arsenal

It’s not just the Champions League that makes its return this week, the baby brother is back in town too as the Europa League comes back too with the round of 32, including the Champions League drop outs.

One of the stand out ties of the round sees Portuguese giants Benfica paired up with north London side Arsenal in a game that will see two sides expected to get to the latter rounds of the tournament face off with each other.

Both sides have struggled domestically this season and could potentially see the Europa League as their best chance at European football next season, so may take this game extremely seriously which would produce some high quality, entertaining games.

The Lisbon side currently sit in fourth place in the Primera Liga having struggled massively under Jorge Jesus this season, 13 points behind local and fierce rivals Sporting. After inconsistent form earlier in the campaign, the Eagles were struck down by a squad-wide bout of COVID-19 that saw over ten players forced to isolate following positive tests.

It means that they have won just three of their last nine games in all competitions but they’re now nearing full strength once again and will be confident of scoring goals against Arsenal’s inconsistent defence.

The Gunners on the other hand have seen a good run of form come to an end in recent weeks, but bounced back at the weekend with a comfortable 4-2 win over Leeds United. The result saw star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang get his first league hat-trick for the club and make it seven goals in his last ten games for the club following an extended spell without a goal.

While Aubameyang is likely to be rested from the start in these games, with Arteta more inclined to use his large squad and rest key players, the fact they will have that calibre of player available to bring off the bench if needed is a big factor in the tie.

Arsenal have shown that they have the capabilities to defend well when they need to, but they’ve struggled to balance good defending with good attacking for the most part this season. With that said, they should prove too much for the Portuguese side.

The likes of Darwin Nunez, Haris Seferovic, Everton and Rafa Silva have the ability to cause Arsenal problems if they all play but I’m willing to bet that the Benfica manager will opt for a different set up that will hinder his side and Arsenal will be able to come away with progression into the last 16.

PREDICTION:

Benfica 1-1 Arsenal
Arsenal 3-1 Benfica
(Arsenal progress 4-2 on aggregate)

Is Ruben Dias The Answer To Manchester City Centre Back Issue?

After Vincent Kompany left the club back in the summer of 2019, Manchester City were always short in central defence. Not just in numbers, but in quality.

The Belgian left after a 10 year spell in Manchester, meaning Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Eric Garcia were the only recognised centre-backs at the club. Rather than replace him Pep Guardiola opted to use Fernandinho in defence which was fine when Laporte played, but when he didn’t (which was often) they looked shaky.

This summer City have prioritised a central defender with real quality, with Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli the number one target for the club. Nathan Ake was brought in to shore up numbers too, but Koulibaly remained the man that was most often linked to bolstering the back line.

After months of negotiations, the deal has failed to move forward and City have reportedly move on to other targets with just 9 days left of the transfer window. Jules Kounde of Sevilla was subject to a €55million bid last week, but Sevilla rejected the offer and pointed towards his €80million release clause. Koulibaly’s price has been reported to be around €70million with add-ons included, so it’s highly unlikely City go that high for the young Frenchman when their number one choice is cheaper.

This has seemingly brought them to Portugal’s big defensive hope of the new generation in Ruben Dias.

According to Fabrizio Romano Manchester City have entered talks with Benfica over a potential move for Dias, with Nicolas Otamendi likely to go in the opposite direction to help lower the fee. But is Dias the answer?

For me, not just yet. Dias is a very good defender and has shown that he is better than the Portuguese league with his performances for the national team. He is comfortable on the ball, relatively quick, strong in a one-on-one situation and competitive in the air. But he doesn’t stand out in any of those fields as exceptional to me.

As an option alongside Laporte, Dias would fit in seamlessly and he’s definitely an upgrade on Stones, Ake and Otamendi but City’s issue is when Laporte isn’t there. Koulibaly is used to being that cornerstone of a defence so he’d have no issue taking on the mantle if he was signed, while Kounde did well as the leader of the Sevilla defence despite being only 21 years old. Dias is the leader of the Benfica defence right now but it says something that Porto pipped them to the title last season and his best performances have undoubtedly come for the national team alongside Pepe.

The reported fee of €55-60million plus Otamendi seems quite extortionate in the current market but Guardiola must be keen to either bolster the defence no matter what, or this is a ploy to put pressure on Napoli.

I don’t think it’s the latter and Dias’ reputation is high. He has talent and at only 23 years old he will only improve. Personally, I think he needs a step between where he is now and Man City, so he can bed himself into the league and improve more before the big price tag adds the extra pressure on him. A club like Leicester would be ideal for him, where they will compete against everyone in the division and play with the same principles as the best teams in the league.

Overall, that step looks unlikely to come now with a deal reportedly close and I’m excited to see Ruben Dias in the Premier League.

Benfica’s Champions League Curse Continues

In the uncertain times of today, dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic, few are the football clubs willing to spend as freely as other transfer windows have allowed.

Curiously, irrespective of the risks and needs to safeguard against turns in the financial tide, one team appears to be spending like never before.

Hiring a top-20-earning manager, being linked with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen and ex-Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani before spending a whopping €80 million in transfer fees on top of that, it’ll come as a surprise to many that Benfica, from cash-strapped Portugal, are the ones flaunting such fierce financial firepower.

Free-spending isn’t entirely foreign for the Estádio da Luz outfit, who’ve completed four of their five most expensive deals ever just in the last 12 months, but the manner is as aggressive as ever after a lacklustre 2019/20 season.

SL Benfica v Rennes FC - Pre Season Friendly : News Photo

Fresh in the memory is Bruno Lage’s demise in charge of the Eagles, last season, winning just five of his last 15 games at the club before resigning to the tune of bitter rivals FC Porto charging to the league title.

Lage didn’t pick up all of the blame, however, having previously sealed the title in 2018/19 after two-time champion Rui Vitória, now at Al-Nassr, succumbed to the same fate mid-season.

The board’s harshest critics were quick to point towards the club’s inability to cast in the correct personnel, struggling firstly to cater for the aging Jonas and, later, replacing João Félix effectively.

A season prior to Vitória’s sacking, Benfica also missed the chance to win five league titles in a row, a record held by Porto, who were, against the odds, able to wrap up the 2017/18 league title for themselves on a shoestring budget.

Head-to-head in the last three season, the Dragons are 2-1 up in titles, which weighs heavy on Luís Filipe Vieira’s reputation as club president, with elections looming over the club next month.

The club’s European success, or lack thereof, has been an even bigger source of disappointment, falling at the group stages in each of their last three Champions League campaigns which included 2017/18’s rock-bottom finish, accumulating no points at all in Manchester United’s group.

In addition to having his name muddied by numerous allegations into corruption, after 17 years in charge of the club, Vieira is, without a doubt, going through his least boastful spell in the red half of Lisbon. This brings us to his new, more aggressive approach ahead of the new season, as well as October’s pending election, in which Vieira really has gone for the jugular.

The first port of call has been Jorge Jesus – a name very familiar to the club for the best and worst reasons. A three-time league champion in six years, the Eagles played some of their best football under the 66-year-old, but his tenure at the club ended on a real sour note, trading the red of Benfica for the green of cross-city rivals Sporting in the summer of 2015.

Then came the signings of Everton Cebolinha from Grêmio, adding to the capture of Corinthians’ Pedrinho, Vertonghen’s free transfer, a successful move for Germany Under-21 international Gian-Luca Waldschmidt and record-transfer Darwin Nuñez, arriving from Spanish second tier side Almeria.

Image

With a bill north of €80 million and moves for Flamengo pair Gerson and Bruno Henrique, as well as Olympiakos centre-half Rubén Semedo still tabbed up, the message coming from Benfica was clear. This wasn’t a club simply after domestic success, but one seeking redemption on a European stage, befitting of the money invested in both players and manager.

But as the Red & Whites stretched their finances to the limit, they seemed to have overlooked one very pertinent fact about Champions League football – they were yet to qualify.

In Tuesday’s one-legged play-off, PAOK Salonika handed Benfica the most brutal reminder of that, knocking them out in a 2-1 victory sealed by their ex-player, Andrija Zivkovic, who was allowed to head for Greece on a free transfer just this month.

With it, the Serbian winger, a handsome earner during his time in Lisbon, wiped €40 million from Benfica’s coffers, upon eventual qualification for the centrepiece of European club football – a staggering 35% of the club’s annual revenue. By contrast, should the Eagles qualify for the Europa League and win the tournament, they’d only earn up to €26 million.

The elimination arrives with immediate consequences as the club battles to avoid the trail left by Sporting and Porto and landing themselves in hot water with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

Benfica may well need to sell a player or two for sizeable fees which, with super-agent Jorge Mendes in the contacts book, may not seem like such an impossible task, but it doesn’t bode well for a squad Jesus, reportedly, still believes to be incomplete, nor will it sit well with the fans hopeful of seeing some of the club’s brightest prospects out on the pitch, rather than on the transfer market.

The Eagles have been here before with Jesus, as well as Mendes, letting go of the likes of Bernardo Silva, Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and João Cancelo, all curiously for €15 million to AS Monaco and Valencia, both well-connected to the portuguese agent. Today, Florentino Luis and Ferro may well be the next to walk the plank.

Financial troubles will do Vieira no wonders too going into an election. Not only is the prospect of no European football a blow to fans, eager to see their star-studded team in action at the very top, but the recklessness of it, laid bare by Tuesday’s elimination, is sure to erase some form of trust in the top man from sections of the support.

That may not be enough to dethrone the current incumbent just yet, still a favourite going into the elections, but the worries over an ambitious project, that seems to be over before its even begun, shall persist.