Benfica have a slight 1-0 lead as they travel to Zenit St. Petersburg for their second leg of the Champions League knockout round of 16 tie. The Russian team will be confident enough stepping into this clash as they think it’s possible to overturn the slight margin in front of their always supporting home crowd. But if they concede one goal, they should win by 2 or more goals to make it to the quarter-finals. Whereas a draw will be enough to guide Benfica through to the quarter-finals, but the recent injury crisis gives a tall order at Petrovsky Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Zenit managed to win five games in a row, before suffering a 2-1 defeat to Gent on matchday six of the group stages. The defeat at the hands of Benfica in their first leg left them on a two-match winless streak. However, there will be still a bit of rustiness as the Russian Premier League was on winter break and the campaign has just restarted on 5th March.
While Benfica will step into the match back of a 1-0 victory over Sporting in the weekend and they are on a very confident run after winning 17 of the last 18 matches in all competitions. Since the first leg match against Zenit on 16th February, they have won all of their three matches and kept a clean sheet in the last two appearances.
The match will start with an early kick-off and will be played at 17:00 GMT, on Wednesday 9th March 2016.
Zenit St. Petersburg: Domenico Criscito was given marching order after seeing a red card in the first leg at Portugal and he is suspended for the second leg tonight. Javi Garcia is also suspended as he accumulated 5 yellow cards in the competition. While Faizulin, Malafeev and Ryazantsev are out of Zenit St. Petersburg clash due to injury.
Benfica: Benfica boss Rui Vitoria will have to manage without six of his first-team players for the trip to Saint Petersburg. Luisao, Lisandro Lopez, Lubomir Fejsa, Andre Almeida and Nuno Santos and are injured for Benfica; while Jardel is suspended. Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar is also doubtful with a thigh problem. Ederson Moraes can replace him.
Zenit St. Petersburg: (4-2-3-1) – Lodygin; Anyukov, Lombaerts, Garay, Smolinikov; Witsel, Neto; Shatov, Danny, Hulk; Dzyuba.
Benfica: (4-2-3-1) – Moraes; Silvio, Nelsinho, Lindelof, Eliseu; Sanches, Samaria; Pizzi, Jonas, Gaitan; Mitroglou.
Hulk vs Lindelof –
The Brazilian attacker failed to score in the first leg which Zenit lost 1-0, but, this time, manager Andre Villas-Boas is confident, Hulk will play a major role in his attack against an injury-hit Benfica defence. The 29-year-old Brazilian has so far netted 11 goals in all competitions for his club this season with three strikes in the Champions League. He will be up against Benfica backline’s most weak link Victor Lindelof who happens to be only the fourth choice and in the absence of veteran Luisao and Lisandro Lopez in the centre it will be interesting to see how the player stops Hulk.
Artem Dzyuba vs Ederson Moraes –
Dzyuba has six goals this season in the Champions League and he will certainly be a fearsome figure in front of the makeshift Benfica defence. The 27-year-old centre-forward will be delighted to hear the news that veteran goalkeeper, Benfica’s Julio Cesar is doubtful for this clash. He will have to outrun a 22-year-old inexperienced Moraes, who was 23 times in the bench in Portuguese League this season. With 16 goals from 30 appearances this term, Dzyuba will have a great chance to enhance his goal tally if Cesar couldn’t play.
Zenit are in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third time in the past five seasons (2011/12, 2013/14, 2015/16), although they have never made it past the last-16. While Benfica have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2011/12.
Zenit have won all three of their home games in the Champions League this season (7 goals for, 2 against).
Benfica and Zenit’s only previous encounter in the knockout stages of the Champions League saw the Portuguese club progress, it was in the last-16 of the tournament back in 2011/12 (4-3 on aggregate).
Zenit and Benfica have picked up the most cards in the Champions League this season: 24 and 23 respectively. The first-leg produced six yellow cards and a red card.
Benfica have lost four of their five away games in the Champions League knockout stages (W1).
Hulk’s next Champions League match tonight against Benfica will be his 50th in the competition. He has scored three goals and delivered four assists in six games this season.
Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba has scored/assisted 61.5 percent of his team’s goals in the Champions League this season (8 out of 13).
Zenith St. Petersburg Win – 21/20
Draw – 5/2
Benfica Win – 3/1
Zenith St. Petersburg will be firm favourites keeping in mind their strong home form in Champions League this term and their impressive unbeaten record at home against Portuguese sides will boost them with added confidence.
Whereas Benfica are currently struggling with injuries, especially in defence and this could make the difference here. It’s a tough challenge for them and we could see Zenit winning this return leg 2-0 without any problem.