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PREVIEW: BENFICA V UNITED

 

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Setting the scene... United continued the unbeaten start to the season in all competitions on Saturday, with a hard-fought draw at Anfield in the Premier League. The Reds have now gone eight games without defeat in the league and, having won the previous two Champions League outings this term, Jose Mourinho's men will be confident going into the clash at Benfica's Estadio da Luz on Wednesday night. Convincing wins against Basel and CSKA Moscow in the opening fixtures mean United can all but secure a place in the knock-out rounds with a win in Lisbon, while the Eagles will be looking to get their first points on the board in Group A, having lost both of their opening matches.

 The game kicks off at 20:45 SA time on Wednesday and will be broadcast live at the Keg and Beagle.  

Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic still remain sidelined and while Marcos Rojo is still working his way back to full fitness, the Argentina defender was part of the travelling squad to Lisbon. We'll have to wait for an update from the boss in Tuesday's press conference on the fitness of Eric Bailly, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick - who all missed Saturday's clash with Liverpool. Meanwhile, Benfica right-back Andrea Almeida will miss out through suspension, after being sent off in their last European tie away to Basel. 

What sort of form are Benfica in? Rui Vitoria's side have began their domestic season in good form, and they currently sit third in Liga Nos, having lost only once in their opening eight games. That loss came against Boavista last month, and since then a 2-1 win over Pacos Ferreira and a 1-1 draw with Maritimo have got their campaign back on track. However, the Eagles' form in Europe has been altogether different. A 2-1 home defeat to CSKA and a 5-0 thrashing away at Basel have already put their chances of reaching the knock-out stages in real jeopardy. Nevertheless, veteran striker Jonas will be one to look out for, the 33-year-old Brazil international has already scored 10 goals in all competitions this term.

Have we played them before? United have a long, rich history of facing Benfica, and our head-to-head record in this fixture is a positive one, having won six of the nine previous encounters between the sides. Sir Matt Busby's side twice beat the Eagles en-route to the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1966, and, of course, the Reds beat Eusebio's Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. United also met the Portuguese giants in consecutive Champions League campaigns in 2005/06 and 2006/07, coming out on top in three of the four encounters. And most recently, the points were shared in both matches of the 2011/12 Champions League group stages.

What's United's record like against Portuguese opposition? Pretty solid - the Reds have won 14 of the 21 fixtures against Portuguese clubs, and have lost only twice, with the remaining five matches ending all square. The aforementioned ties against Benfica are among the most famous ties, though two Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired victories over Sporting Lisbon in the 2007/08 campaign will also be remembered fondly by the United faithful. The last time we faced Portuguese opposition was in the 2012/13 season, when, in Sir Alex Ferguson's last campaign in charge, his side beat Braga twice in the group stages, notably coming from two goals down to win 3-2 at Old Trafford in the first encounter.

Who's the referee? German referee Felix Zwayer will take charge of his second United match on Wednesday night, having also officiated our 1-1 draw in Rostov in last season's Europa League last 16 clash. The Bundesliga whistler will be assisted by Thorsten Schiffner and Marco Achmuller with Rafael Foltyn on fourth official duties. Daniel Siebert and Sascha Stegemann will both take up the roles of additional assistant referees.

Did you know? This match will mark a return to Lisbon for Mourinho, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof. The boss managed the Eagles in the 2000/01 season, replacing Jupp Heynckes early in the campaign, before resigning in December after club president Manuel Vilarinho refused to extend his contract. Meanwhile, Matic represented Benfica between 2011 and 2014, and amassed 73 appearances. And, of course, Lindelof was acquired from the Lisbon side in the summer, where he had spent the previous five years, winning three league titles.

An expert's view... Portuguese journalist Tom Kundert, of PortuGOAL, has given us the lowdown on Wednesday's opponents. He said: "Benfica have a settled team who know each other and their system back to front. Lots of their players have won a lot and have plenty of big-game experience, and they have a good variety of attacking weapons - big strikers, skilful strikers and goalscoring wingers. Their best players are skilful and prolific Brazilian forward Jonas, holding midfielder Fejsa and their box-to-box midfield general, Pizzi."

Rivals watch: On Tuesday, Liverpool travel to Slovenia to take on Maribor, Manchester City host Napoli, and Tottenham face an unenviable trip to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Wednesday sees Bayern Munich welcome Celtic, Chelsea play host to Roma, and elsewhere in Group A CSKA Moscow face Basel at home, as both sides look for their second win of the Champions League campaign. 

 

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