Benfica vs Schalke CL PreviewBy: Shane | September 28th, 2010
History on our side
When Benfica comes to the Veltins on Wednesday weâ€™ll at least have history with us. How much does history count for? Not much, but you have to be optimistic about something!
Schalke have met Portugese competition three times in the CL, all in knock-out stages, and all times came away victorious. Weâ€™ve never met Benfica, but have dispatched their countrymen in Porto and Braga. The most recent was in 2007/2008 when we knocked out FC Porto on penalties. This was also the night, and tie, of Manuel Neuer who absolutely dominated the match to force a shoot out then had an unreal save rate for penalties which let us cruise 4-1 in the shoot out.
Benfica have never won playing in Germany in 17 attempts. Their most recent German adventure was a 1-1 tie to Hertha Berlin in the EL round of 32 last season. At home is a different story, but on the road 0 wins in 17 is quite staggering. Benfica opened their CL fixtures this year by dispatching Hapoel Tel-Aviv 2-0 at home. Anything besides a win against the Israeli side at home would have been eye brow raising. A quick look at the match statistics only reveals one interesting tidbit:
Possession: Hapoel 55%, Benfica 45%
Unfortunately, Hapoel did next to nothing with their possession as they were outshot 19 to 6 and only had 1 shot on target the whole match compared to 11 by Benfica. If not for some great goal keeping for Hapoel this wouldâ€™ve been 5-0. Overall, it is tough to get any kind of read on Benfica from one game at home against the team everyone views as the weakest in the group. Domestically, Benfica had a rough start losing 3 of their first 4 matches. Things have picked up since with 2 wins in a row including one over Sporting Lisbon. Their road form has been poor with only 1 road win and 2 losses. The away victory was not exactly impressive being a 1-0 over bottom of the table Maritomo.
Bayern was making all kinds of oohing and aahing noises over Fabio after his impressive World Cup for Portugal at Left Back. In the end the Bavarians decided the 20 million asking price was too steep. Theyâ€™re probably lamenting that decision now as neither Diego Contento nor Daniel Pranjic seem to have enough quality for their LB spot. Coentrao has recently extended his contract with Benfica. He will likely play a more attacking role against us as a LM instead of a LB. Given how terrible our RB spot has been in the last few games you have to consider this a critical match-up. Will we again be terrorized down the right side of the pitch? Uchida should get the start, so that will be a large defensive improvement over Moritz and Howedes there, but still the Japanese man has not been that great.
Cardozo & Saviola:
These are the two consistent strikers for Benfica and they have formed a strong partnership since Saviola joined from Real Madrid last season. They are kind of like one of those old cartoon mobster villain combos. Cardozo is a big (6â€™3), powerful striker and Saviola is a small (5â€™7), quick player. Cardozo, the Paraguayan national team striker had a decent World Cup and like many of Benficaâ€™s players was linked with a lot of high profile clubs in the transfer window. The consensus from a lot of Benfica fans is that Cordozo is over-rated and they wish the ~15 million euro offers this summer had been taken. With Howedes serving his suspension for the ludicrous red card in France weâ€™ll be forced to employ a CB combo of Plestan and Metzelder. Even if Cardozo is over-hyped, he may be too powerful for our slow old timers to deal with. Saviola is the more dangerous for us. Plestan and Metz can put a body on Cardozo and handle his speed. They have no means of handling the quickness of Saviola.
Very few changes can be expected from Magathâ€™s line-up employed in the last two matches. We will again go with the 3 DMâ€™s in midfield, Jurado as creator and Raul/Huntelaar leading the line. Unfortunately, Farfan is going to find himself odd man out. Iâ€™ve said it before, but to reiterate I would prefer Farfan in Raulâ€™s spot. That isnâ€™t going to happen though. There is no way to fit Huntelaar, Jurado, Farfan and Raul into a starting line-up. The only way those 4 get on the pitch together is in a 2nd half when we are chasing a goal. Huntelaar and Jurado are clear starters and Raul is untouchable to Magath (expect it to be even more so after his goal at the weekend), so despite his strong play, Farfan is out.
Each team will employ a very similar formation of a central holding midfielder, a central play-maker and two strikers. The subtle difference will be between Jones/Rakitic and Martins/Coentrao with Benficaâ€™s midfielders looking to add more width. For Schalke the width will come from the full-backs and Rakitic/Jones will play more centrally and defensively.
Is this the most important match to date?
Itâ€™s a close call between this and Dortmund. From a purely unemotional position you would have to say this is it. A loss at home to Benfica and the CL is probably over. Weâ€™d be battling for 3rd place and a parachute into the EL and not a top 2 finish. A draw would be a lukewarm result and put us up against it, but not out of the picture. We really need a win. As always, we can expect a great atmosphere at Veltins Arena. It doesnâ€™t get much better than a night match in the Champions League.