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Champions League PREVIEW: SL Benfica vs AS Monaco (4/11/14)

In what is a reverse of the previous round of Champions League fixtures, Benfica welcome Monaco to the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday evening in an encounter that could well make or break the Portuguese side’s European hopes.

At the halfway point in Group C, Benfica are propping up the table with just one point from three games – a point they earned in the goalless draw in Monaco two weeks ago – while Monaco are sitting pretty in second with five points from their three games.

While both sides had plenty of clear-cut opportunities to break the deadlock in their previous encounter – with Monaco in particular grateful to Danijel Subasic for his heroics in keeping the away side at bay – neither team quite had the guile to make the difference as both sets of attacking players produced the kind of misfiring display that has been all too common of late.

Indeed, since playing out that 0-0 draw, Monaco found their form in a 3-1 away win over Bastia on 25 October before once again being made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as Reims snatched a 1-1 draw last Friday night in Ligue 1.

In a similar vein, Benfica followed up their draw at the Stade Louis II with a first league loss this season against Braga on 26 October before narrowly overcoming Rio Ave 1-0 on Friday. While they remain one point clear of rivals Porto at the top of the league, Jorge Jesus will be quietly concerned about his side’s progress and will hope that they will be able to add goals to the otherwise dominant display they produced in the reverse fixture.

Squad Selection and Tactics

Dimitar Berbatov is Monaco’s most notable absentee after picking up a groin injury that is likely to see Lacina Traoré lead the line against Benfica but that is the extent of the principality club’s troubles. Elsewhere, Joao Moutinho shrugged off a niggling shoulder problem to feature in Friday’s draw and, after missing out at the weekend with calf injuries, both Nabil Dirar and Layvin Kurzawa should be ready to play on Tuesday.

Benfica, meanwhile, have a few injury worries of their own, with Eliseu the latest star to be struck down after suffering a foot injury in training. Nicolas Gaitan remains a doubt despite battling through a rib injury to play in Friday’s success against Rio Ave and both Ola John and Jardel are out with thigh injuries. After being sent off late on in the previous clash between these two sides, defender Lisandro Lopez is suspended, forcing Jorge Jesus to make an important change in the heart of his side’s defence.

Ultimately, Benfica have little choice but to take the game to their opponents and this extra attacking impetus could leave them vulnerable on the counter. Having alternated between 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in recent weeks, Monaco have shown plenty of tactical flexibility, and the ability to adapt to their opponent’s enforced gameplan could be pivotal. With Benfica set to take more risks going forward, the pace of Dirar, Lucas Ocampos and Anthony Martial off the bench could well decide the outcome of the game.

Danger Men

Danijel Subasic (Monaco) – While the man between the sticks certainly poses no danger going forward, Benfica will still see him as one of the biggest obstacles in their path to victory. After producing a string of fine saves against the Portuguese side last time out, the 30-year-old Croatian cemented his status as one of the Champions League’s leading shot-stoppers so far this season and will carry an aura of invincibility into this match.

Talisca (Benfica) – Although Benfica’s 20-year-old maestro failed to shine in the reverse fixture, a stunning 25-yard winner at the weekend will have topped up the youngster’s confidence ahead of this encounter. In a game that is screaming out for a match-winner, Talisca has proven without doubt that he can be the man to make the difference having scored five goals in his last four league matches.

Prediction

Predicting which side will turn up is equally tough for both of these teams at the moment and Benfica’s desperation for a positive result could go one of two ways. While Monaco are yet to fully convince this season, an unbeaten run of six games and an in-form defensive line will make them extremely tough to beat. Ultimately, the way the group is balanced should make this game a little bit more open than last time out and a couple of goals are long overdue.

Prediction: Benfica 1-1 Monaco

J.L.

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