Transformed Benfica side will ask questions of Celtic in Lisbon

The lowdown on a much-improved Benfica side ahead of their clash with Celtic, by Andy McDougall.

Benfica team v Celtic
SNS Group

Celtic travel to Lisbon on a wave of euphoria and know that they can secure a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with the right result against Benfica; however, that will be far from an easy task against the in-form club.

Benfica have won their last seven games domestically and are unbeaten in the Primeira Liga and Portuguese Cup. They sit in second place in the league, only behind leaders Porto on goal difference, and only Celtic and Barcelona have prevented them from scoring this season.

The Benfica side that takes to the pitch at Estádio da Luz against Celtic will undoubtedly be a stronger one than Neil Lennon’s side faced in Glasgow, for a number of reasons.

Back in September the Eagles were only beginning to adjust to the loss of key players Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia, and new players such as Ola John and Lima had not been fully integrated into the squad.

Benfica’s late transfer activity meant that they began the season a little uncertainly as they adapted to major changes in central midfield; Witsel and Garcia were huge players. Now, though, Nemanja Matic is growing into the holding role and ahead of him boss Jorge Jesus has a number of options including Portugal international Carlos Martins, Bruno César and, usually, Enzo Pérez. Meanwhile 19-year-old midfielder André Gomes has shown he’s not out of place at first team level.

On the right wing the talented Salvio continues to impress but it is on the left that new arrival Ola John has given Benfica another option. Pacy, direct and confident, the Dutchman provides stiff competition for Gaitán and Nolito and may well start against Celtic. An unknown quantity, to an extent, as he didn’t feature in the game at Celtic Park, John could pose problems for Mikael Lustig or Adam Matthews.

At the back Jorge Jesus is boosted by the returns from injury and suspension respectively of Maxi Pereira and captain Luisão, neither of whom featured at Parkhead. Maxi is a key player for the Eagles and his absence was a blow for them in Glasgow. The powerful Uruguayan right back loves to get forward and isn’t a stranger to getting an assist or two. He is also a long throw specialist into the bargain.

Centre back Ezequiel Garay has also been passed fit so he will partner Luisão in Jorge Jesus’ first-choice pairing. Left back, however, could still be a potential weak spot in the Benfica team. Neither incumbent of that position this season, Melgarejo or Luisinho, has fully impressed.

Both, while happy going forward, appear suspect defensively and prone to risk-taking and errors. This might be something that Lennon could look to capitalise on, although the continued absence of James Forrest through injury and the lack of a similar out-and-out right winger might hamper any plans to do so.

One of the biggest positives of Benfica’s season so far has been the way late summer signing Lima has hit the ground running at his new club. The Brazilian, who joined from Braga, was joint top scorer in the Primeira Liga last season with Óscar Cardozo, and now united at Benfica the two are forming a formidable partnership at the head of Jorge Jesus’ preferred 4-1-3-2 formation. Lima didn’t make his debut until after the Celtic game but has since found the net eight times. Cardozo leads the club scoring charts, though, with ten. Between the two of them Celtic’s defence will have plenty to preoccupy themselves with in Lisbon.

Celtic will rightly be confident and motivated going into this game but Benfica need the win badly, knowing that failure to do so will almost certainly see them eliminated from the competition.

They have the pace, technical attributes and individual talent to cause Celtic plenty of problems at Estádio da Luz so it is no exaggeration to say that it will take the same levels of concentration and effort that Celtic gave against Barcelona if they want to secure qualification in Lisbon.

Predicted Benfica team: Artur; Maxi Pereira, Luisão, Garay, Melgarejo; Matic; Salvio, Pérez, John; Cardozo, Lima.

You can follow Andy on Twitter @andymcd90

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. At least 6 characters please. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
At least 6 characters please
ShowHide
This field is required. At least 6 characters please.
You have to be 16 or over to join
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
Type your full postcode and select your address This field is required. It doesn't look like you've entered a valid postcode. Can't find your address? Confirm the details you've given us are correct by clicking here

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, including our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. Any issues contact us.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.