Benfica visit the Camp Nou tonight desperate to get a result against La Liga giants Barcelona and clinch a spot in the next round of the Champions League at the expense of Group G rivals Celtic.
The club from Portugal are level on 7 points with Celtic, but their head-to-head record against the Scottish club means that Benfica only need to equal Celtic’s efforts against Spartak Moscow – who have nothing but pride to play for as they head into the match knowing they will finish bottom of Group G even if they win and claim the three points – for them to progress through the group stage.
Jorge Jesus’ will have been keeping his fingers crossed that at least some of Barca’s formidable players will be rested by Tito Vilanova in a match that now has little significance to the Catalans due to the fact they they have already qualified as group winners.
The wish came true when it was announced that regular first-team stars, such as Javier Mascherano, Pedro Rodriguez, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta, have all been given the night off.
Instead, Jesus and his men face the less intimidating task of trying to outwit players from Barca’s B team, such as Gerard Deulofeu, Sergi Gomez, Sergi Roberto, Carles Planas, Cristian Tello and Rafinha after they were all included in the Spanish club’s 18-man squad.
The one name that Benfica will have feared the most though is the one and only Lionel Messi, but the unstoppable Argentinian forward has been included in the squad by Vilanova, which is thought to be because he is chasing Gerd Muller’s record of scoring 85 goals in one calender year, which was achieved back in 1972.
Messi is just one goal short of equalling the record, so he’ll be hoping to get some game time and help Barca’s young and inexperienced team to victory by scoring a goal or two.
As happy as Benfica will be to see the absence of so many of the current La Liga leaders’ best players, they know they have their own squad to worry about, with key players missing from the vital clash at the Camp Nou.
Carlos Martins, Eduardo Salvio, Enzo Perez and Pablo Aimar are all unavailable for the match, so Lima and Oscar Cardozo will lead the attack for the away side, and Luisao is thought to be in line to make just his second Champions League appearance this campaign.
Benfica will be fully aware of Portuguese teams’ poor history against the Spanish side away from home, with Barcelona winning every one of their past 10 games at the Camp Nou against them.