After what seemed like an eternal wait for the fans, Champions League is back in action this mid-week with a number of high-profile games on the cards. The first of the many mouthwatering games in this elite competition will be played between Benfica from the Portuguese league and Zenit St Petersburg from the Russian league.
Zenit has had a great Champions League run so far and have finished top of Group H ahead of Gent will face their first competitive game in over two months while Benfica finished second in their group behind Atletico Madrid. This match will be a very tight contest as both teams have some good players all around the field.
Here is the preview of the game along with the Team News, Predicted Line-ups, Predictions and Betting Odds.
The Benfica vs Zenit St Petersburg game will be played on Tuesday the 16th of February at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (da Luz), Lizboa. The kickoff is scheduled at 7:45 pm BST (1:15 am IST on Wednesday).
The Portuguese outfit will miss their skipper and central defender Lisao who is out with a broken arm since November. Midfielders Ljubomir Fejsa and Eduardo Salvio face fitness tests to establish if they can be considered for the match day squad. However, Fellow central defender Lisandro Lopez is expected to be fit after missing the last two games with a thigh injury.
Zenit central midfielder Viktor Faizulin is out with injury while there are doubts about fellow midfielder Aleksandr Ryazantsev and fullback Igor Smolnikov. Coach Andre Villas-Boas has added three players to the squad in readiness for the Champions League knockout phase but Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksandr Kokorin and Mauricio are likely to start from the bench on Tuesday.
Cesar; Silvio, Lopez, Jardel, Eliseu; Pizzi, Almeida, Sanches, Gaitan; Jonas, Mitroglou
Zenit St Petersburg:
Lodygin; Anyukov, Garay, Lombaerts, Criscito; Garcia, Witsel; Hulk, Danny, Shatov; Dzyuba
Hulk vs Almeida:
Hulk is one of the most important players for the Russian outfit. The Brazilian is electric at times on the pitch and will have to be kept quite in the midfield by the likes of Almeida and Sanches. Almeida has done some good work for Benfica in recent games and will have to put in another shift to keep Hulk away from harms reach.
Mitroglou vs Garay:
This will be the most important battle on the night as Mitroglou who has the ability to find the net consistently will be a menace all night for the Zenit defenders. Garay has been in good form off late but will have to do pretty well to keep out the Benfica striker otherwise, the home team will have a long night ahead of them.
Benfica have lost just one of their last 10 games winning the other 9.
This is the first time that Benfica have reached the knockout stage since the 2011-12 season.
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 are the only Russian team to have beaten Benfica at the Estadio Da Luz in European competition, it was in September 2014 (2-0).
Benfica have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five Champions League games. Their only shut-out this season was against Astana at home (2-0).
Zenit St Petersburg: 12/5
Benfica have not scored more than two goals more than once in their last 36 Champions League encounters. Though playing at home, Benfica will have to be at their best to get anything from this game as Villas-Boas has made it clear that he wants to finish off the tie in the first leg. However, it will not be easy having come back from a lengthy break and the home side might get a chance to assert their dominance. This game has all the makings of a classic Champions League encounter.
Benfica 1-2 Zenit St Petersburg