While Barcelona’s place in the Champions League knockout phase as Group G winners has already been confirmed, their opponents at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, Benfica, are still very much scrapping for a place in the next round.
The Portuguese side go into the section’s final match in second place, but level on points with Celtic and needing to match the result of the Scottish champions at home to Spartak Moscow.
Benfica lost 2-0 at home to the Catalan giants back in October and face a daunting task to get a result against a side many still consider to be the best in Europe.
Their opponents come into the fixture on the back of six successive victories since their shock loss at Celtic last month. At the weekend a 5-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao helped extend their lead at the top of La Liga to six points and few would now bet against Tito Vilanova’s side regaining the Spanish title.
While there is nothing tangible riding on the match’s outcome for the Barcelona, Vilanova has stressed that his side will be taking the contest seriously.
“I have seen a very good training session today, as if we were playing an important match, and that is good because all our games are important,” he said, according to UEFA.com. “This is the Champions League and Benfica have a lot at stake.
“I haven't had to motivate the players because they're professionals and it's part of their job. It's a home game in the Champions League and we have players who are freshly returned from injuries. They will profit from playing, along with players from the B team who can prove themselves against Benfica.”
Two players certain to miss out for Vilanova are Dani Alves and Alexis Sanchez, who remain injured.
Benfica will still be without Pablo Aimar, while Carlos Martins, Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio are also ruled out.
D: Montoya, Puyol, Pique, Adriano
M: Song, Busquets, Thiago
F: Tello, Messi, Villa
D: Pereira, Garay, Luisao, Melgarejo
M: Rodrigo, Matic, Gaitan, John
F: Cardozo, Lima
Prediction: Benfica are likely to be severely hamstrung by something of an injury crisis in midfield. While Barcelona will make changes and Benfica have the greater imperative to get a result, the home side should still have enough to get the victory.
Barcelona 3-1 Benfica
Where to watch: The Champions League contest kicks-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Deportes, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.