Benfica host Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Portuguese side pushed Liverpool all of the way at last season’s quarter-final stage, while Maccabi Haifa have qualified for the group stage for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign.
Having finished third in last season’s Portuguese Primeira Liga, Benfica look like they mean business this time around, having won all five of their opening league games.
Roger Schmidt‘s side showed tremendous character to earn a 2-1 victory against Vizela on Friday night, with Joao Mario‘s 101st-minute penalty capping a dramatic finale in which The Eagles were shown two red cards during injury-time.
Schmidt, who departed PSV Eindhoven to succeed Jorge Jesus earlier this summer, guided his new side past FC Midtjylland and Dynamo Kiev in the qualifying rounds to ensure Benfica reached the group stage, giving themselves a chance of pulling off another fine showing following their surprise run to the quarter-finals last time out.
It may prove harder without Darwin Nunez after last season’s top goalscorer departed for Liverpool during the transfer window, although in Goncalo Ramos they have an able deputy capable of leading the line to a high standard.
With Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus drawn alongside them in Group H, there is sigificant pressure on Benfica to take a maximum six points from their two matches against their forthcoming opponents if they are to have a realistic chance of reaching the knockout stages once again.
Indeed, this will only be the third time the Israeli champions have competed in the Champions League group stage, having impressively defeated Olympiacos, Apollon Limassol and Red Star Belgrade to make it.
In a group containing Bayern Munich, Juventus and Bordeaux, The Greens failed to gain a single point last time they competed at this stage of Europe’s elite competition, remarkably losing five of their six matches by the same scoreline of 1-0.
Head coach Barak Bakhar, who managed Hapoel Be’er Sheva to great success between 2015 and 2020, will have hope that his side can repeat that type of competitiveness 13 years later, although this time with at least a positive result or two to show for it.
Saturday’s dramatic win against Bakhar’s former club will certainly have improved their confidence ahead of their trip to Lisbon on Tuesday, with Frantzdy Pierrot‘s injury-time strike sealing a crucial victory for his side.
Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Gilberto, Otamendi, Broos, Grimaldo; Fernandez, Luis; Neres, Silva, Mario; Ramos
Maccabi Haifa possible starting lineup:
Cohen; Eliyahu, Goldberg, Arad, Menahem; Fani, Mohamed, Levi; David, Rukavytsya, Tchibota
We say: Benfica 3-0 Maccabi Haifa
Benfica have began the season in brilliant form, and we think this could be a gruelling return to the Champions League group stage for their Israeli opponents as a result.
The Portuguese side will know they may require two wins against Maccabi Haifa if they are to oust either PSG or Juventus for one of the top two spots in Group H.